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With Trump's Endorsement, What's Next For Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill?

Inmates wait to enter their assigned cell block after arriving at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif in Feb. 20, 2014. (Rich Pedroncelli, File/AP)
Inmates wait to enter their assigned cell block after arriving at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif in Feb. 20, 2014. (Rich Pedroncelli, File/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

President Trump throws his support behind a rewrite of federal sentencing laws. What’s brought us to this point where politicians from both sides of the aisle are pushing for criminal justice reform?


Ojmarrh Mitchell, criminologist and associate professor at the University of South Florida.

Shon Hopwood, jailhouse lawyer turned associate professor at Georgetown Law School. He learned to write briefs for other prisoners while serving almost 11 years in federal prison for bank robberies. Author of “Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption.” (@shonhopwood)

Nancy Gertner, retired Massachusetts federal judge, senior lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and WBUR legal analyst. (@ngertner)

From The Reading List

The Hill: “Trump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform” — “President Trump’s support for a criminal justice reform bill might not be enough to get the legislation through the Senate, where it faces vocal opposition from conservatives and has won lukewarm support at best from GOP leaders.

“Trump held a White House event on the issue Wednesday in a public showing that gives the legislation real momentum.

“Yet in a Senate where there is deep-rooted opposition to the bill among conservatives, and where lawmakers are running out of time, Trump’s support might not make the difference.”

NBC News: “Criminal justice reform finally has a chance in Congress. Here’s what the First Step Act would do.” — “President Donald Trump’s support has put Congress within reach of passing the most sweeping set of changes to the federal criminal justice system since the 1990s, when fear of crime drove the enactment of draconian sentencing practices that shipped hundreds of thousands of drug offenders to prison.

“This is no small feat. Reformers have been trying to get this done for years, but something always got in the way: partisan bickering, election-year politics, ambushes by opponents. Amid Washington gridlock, the First Step Act stands out.

“The measure, which could go to a vote during the lame-duck session of Congress between now and January, contains several changes to the way the federal government treats drug offenders, both those who are in prison now and those who will face a judge in the future.”

New York Times: “Opinion: A Real Chance at Criminal Justice Reform” — “Perhaps it’s a coincidence that a new criminal justice reform proposal has emerged in the Senate less than a week after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“But Mr. Sessions — a devout reactionary on matters of criminal justice — never met a reform effort he didn’t want to smother. As a senator, he fought against comprehensive overhaul like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. As attorney general, he pursued hard-line policies stuck in the 1980s, especially when it came to low-level drug offenses. Reform advocates speak of him with the same level of affection as gun-control advocates do Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s longtime frontman.

“And now that Mr. Sessions is gone, a bipartisan collection of senators is pushing a plan that addresses some of the core shortcomings of an earlier House version of the legislation that was supported by the White House. The hope is to move the bill during the lame duck session, before the chaos of the new Congress, with its newly Democratic House majority, takes hold in January.”

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