WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a sweeping criminal justice bill Tuesday that addresses concerns that the nation’s war on drugs had led to the imprisonment of too many Americans for non-violent crimes without adequately preparing them for their return to society.
Senate passage of the bill by a vote of 87-12 culminates years of negotiations and gives President Donald Trump a signature policy victory, with the outcome hailed by scores of conservative and liberal advocacy groups. The House is expected to pass the bill this week, sending it to the president’s desk for his signature.
The bill gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It also reduces the life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years. Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.
“America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes,” Trump tweeted moments after the vote.
“This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!” Trump added.
The vote also thrilled Democrats. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the nation’s prisons are full of Americans who are struggling with mental illness and addiction, and who are overwhelmingly poor. He said the nation’s criminal justice system “feeds on certain communities and not on others,” and said the bill represents a step toward “healing” for those communities.
“Let’s make no mistake, this legislation, which is one small step, will affect thousands and thousands of lives,” Booker said.
When the bill appeared to have stalled in recent weeks, Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pleaded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it up for a vote. With Trump’s urging, McConnell eventually agreed, and voted for the bill as well.
“The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states — our laboratories of democracy — to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system,” Grassley said.