Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill

Former inmates push Senate to move on prison reform bill
© Getty

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 McConnellDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Democrats press for action on election security Hillicon Valley: Election security looms over funding talks | Antitrust enforcers in turf war | Facebook details new oversight board | Apple fights EU tax bill MORE (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWe've lost sight of the real scandal Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel State Dept sent explosive-detection dogs to Jordan despite evidence of mistreatment: report MORE (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGrassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings MORE (D-Calif.), the former prisoners argue the First Step Act, while modest, offers some meaningful reforms.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill, proposed by Sens. John Conryn (R-Texas) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility 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.”