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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 McConnellBipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Washington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden MORE (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats On The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinInfrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap 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 WhitehouseLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction 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.”