House pushes ahead with White House-backed prison legislation

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill backed by the White House aimed at improving federal prisons th...

Posted: May 23, 2018 10:16 AM
Updated: May 23, 2018 10:16 AM

The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill backed by the White House aimed at improving federal prisons that faces steep opposition in the Senate and among advocates of criminal justice revisions.

The First Step Act, sponsored by Georgia's GOP Rep. Doug Collins and New York's Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, passed Tuesday afternoon by 360-59, following its passage out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month by a vote of 25-5.

The bill mandates a series of changes to the Bureau of Prisons, including increasing access and incentives for some prisoners to participate in programs, like education and vocational training, aimed at decreasing the chance an inmate returns to prison after release. It would also mandate federal prisoners be incarcerated no more than 500 miles from their homes, ban the shackling of pregnant women and enshrine into law the bureau's provision of feminine hygiene products as needed.

But the legislation has come under fire almost entirely for what it does not contain: measures that would lessen the severity of federal sentences and thereby put a dent in the federal prison population.

Grassley: House bill can't pass Senate as is

Iowa's Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judicary Committee chairman, has continued to demand that any prisons bill include a sentencing component. Many Democrats in both chambers of Congress have joined him in this demand, as have key groups outside government, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

"For that deal to pass the Senate, it must include sentencing reform," Grassley reiterated at a Washington event Tuesday morning.

This demand comes in direct opposition to the Trump administration, which came out against Grassley's more comprehensive bill in February. At the time, Grassley took particular issue with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' opposition, saying, "I don't think that's something that somebody should do to friends."

The White House issued a statement about the bill's passage late Tuesday:

"The Trump Administration is encouraged that the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act today. This is an important bill that promotes evidence-based programs to reduce recidivism and crime in America's communities. Today's strong bipartisan vote paves a path for action by the Senate."

The debate over retooling the federal criminal justice system comes at a critical juncture, with President Donald Trump's election and his appointment of Sessions marking a shift away from the policies of the Obama administration toward a system more in line with his "law and order" campaign message.

An oversight hearing with Bureau of Prisons Director Mark Inch last month underscored challenges extending to the federal prison system itself, with several members of Congress pressing on the federal prison system's practice of "augmentation," a term for having prison staff, like cooks and nurses, step in as guards to meet personnel needs.

Despite its hardline criminal justice directives, the White House has embraced prison revisions with Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- the White House point person on the issue -- hosting an event on the issue last Friday.

That same day, the Justice Department announced Inch's exit as director, less than a year after Sessions named him to the post.

'There'll be a fight'

It is unclear if the gap can be bridged between the administration's opposition to a sentencing overhaul and the demand from Grassley and others for that component.

For their part, Collins and Jeffries told reporters on Monday they did not see a way to pass sentencing revisions at this point, and when asked about next steps for the issue after it passes the House, Collins predicted tough discussions on the Senate side.

"There'll be a fight over there, just like there has been over here," Collins said.

And Jeffries said that while he and Collins both support sentencing revisions, he believed that many who held out for more would not get anything done.

"In the last Congress, there were some in the advocate community who urged us as Democrats to step away from negotiating a bill with the Obama administration on criminal justice reform by making the argument that we could get more under a Hillary Clinton presidency," Jeffries said. "How did that work out?"

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 2979
CountyConfirmedDeaths
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DeSoto569464
Harrison394175
Jackson358570
Rankin337280
Madison334190
Lee293572
Forrest254275
Jones252780
Washington227879
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Lauderdale2078126
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Lamar176237
Lowndes160858
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Warren141850
Pontotoc130116
Monroe125369
Pike124954
Copiah119933
Scott118027
Coahoma117530
Lincoln112353
Marshall111821
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Holmes110060
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Simpson105847
Tate101938
Union101224
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Wayne91521
Pearl River91453
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George78513
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Newton78124
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Tippah70518
Chickasaw69524
Attala67225
Clarke61149
Walthall60426
Clay59919
Hancock59822
Jasper58415
Noxubee55816
Smith55115
Calhoun52912
Tunica50015
Montgomery47020
Claiborne46516
Yalobusha44414
Lawrence43914
Perry43221
Quitman3905
Greene38917
Stone38013
Humphreys37715
Jefferson Davis34711
Amite34210
Webster33913
Carroll33112
Wilkinson30818
Kemper29115
Sharkey26714
Jefferson2439
Benton2333
Franklin1993
Choctaw1876
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 138162

Reported Deaths: 2405
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson20221352
Mobile13558295
Tuscaloosa9029118
Montgomery8894187
Madison800580
Shelby616450
Lee601761
Baldwin564052
Marshall398345
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Houston295421
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DeKalb246121
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Limestone215720
Cullman192220
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Autauga179127
Russell17903
Lauderdale175934
Colbert168426
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Escambia162024
Jackson161112
Chilton160930
Dale141844
Covington141628
Coffee13936
Pike122011
Chambers117942
Tallapoosa117385
Clarke110916
Marion97629
Butler91740
Barbour8967
Winston75112
Marengo72820
Pickens67215
Randolph67213
Bibb66411
Lowndes65927
Hale65328
Geneva6505
Lawrence63625
Cherokee62013
Bullock61015
Clay5929
Monroe5928
Washington56012
Crenshaw54532
Perry5436
Conecuh53811
Wilcox53211
Henry5145
Macon48318
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Lamar3822
Choctaw35212
Greene30615
Coosa1743
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