Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill

Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill
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A group of 40 former state and federal inmates is pushing Senate leaders to take up the White House-backed prison reform bill that has divided Democrats and liberal groups, as well as GOP senators.

In a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Colombian official urges more help for Venezuelan migrants MORE (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Feinstein introduces bill to prohibit campaigns from using social media bots MORE (D-Calif.), the former prisoners argue the First Step Act, while modest, offers some meaningful reforms.

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The bill, proposed by Sens. John Conryn (R-Texas) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-R.I.), aims to incentivize prisoners to take programs that reduce their likelihood to reoffend after they’ve been released.

But critics of the bill argue meaningful criminal justice reform must also include sentencing reform.

The former inmates say they know the bill isn’t perfect, but it’s something.

“All of us would change the bill in different ways and many of us wished it addressed excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences,” they wrote. “But we also know that the bill would provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.”

An almost identical bill passed the House last month, but so far Grassley isn’t budging. He’s instead pushing competing legislation to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Supporters of prison reform say demands for all or nothing is the wrong approach.

“We’ve been disturbed by some of the comments we’ve heard that doing nothing is better than doing something and that is not at all what we hear from the tens of thousands of prisoners we’re in touch with,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families against Mandatory Minimums, who spent one-and-a-half years in federal prison. “It’s also inconsistent with our own experiences being in federal prisons and knowing how much reform is needed. Waiting to do anything until you get everything is deeply misguided.”