Loading...
BYH to people who bash teachers. You literally would not last one class period at my school. I get cussed at, chairs...

Prison reform bill isn't perfect, but it's a First Step

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

Loading…

Sunday, May 27, 2018

When it comes to prison reform, a little something is better than a lot of nothing. That is why the bipartisan First Step Act, passed last week by the House, deserves to be approved by the Senate and signed into law.

Progressives are sharply divided on the measure, mostly because of what it doesn't do. The bill — sponsored by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Doug Collins, R-Ga., and strongly pushed by President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner — does nothing to address the main problem, which is that this nation sends far too many people to prison and keeps them locked up far too long.

Truly meaningful change would involve sentencing reform, for which there is some bipartisan support in Congress — but not enough to get such legislation through both chambers. It is hard to imagine that Trump, who tries so hard to project a tougher-than-thou image, would sign a bill significantly reducing sentences. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who believes in throwing away the key, would have a conniption fit.

The First Step Act ignores the "front end" of the problem — sentencing — and focuses exclusively on the "back end." It would provide $50 million a year for five years in new funding for education and rehabilitation programs in federal prisons, encourage inmates to participate in those programs by giving them credits for early release, and allow some prisoners to serve the balance of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement.

Proponents estimate the bill would allow up to 4,000 inmates to be released from prison immediately. This is a small fraction of the total federal prison population of nearly 184,000. But try to explain that disparity to those 4,000 men and women and their families.

The bill also requires that inmates be housed at prisons within 500 miles of their homes, that inmates not be shackled during childbirth and recovery and that sanitary products be provided to female prisoners. It is appalling that such basic humanity has to be compelled by legislation.

The House vote on the First Step Act was 360-59, with Democrats sharply divided. Some of the most progressive members supported the bill and some voted against it. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund lobbied against the bill; the National Urban League urged approval.

There is reason to question whether the bill's benefits will be as great as supporters claim, and of course there is reason to prefer more comprehensive legislation that also deals with sentencing. But I see no justification, in this case, for opposing incremental progress — especially since real progress is nowhere in sight.

It is true that we will never begin to reform our shameful system of mass incarceration and warehousing until we address sentences. We send to prison far too many men and women whose nonviolent or minor crimes should be handled without incarceration. African-American and Hispanic men are unfairly targeted by sentencing rules and biased police practices. While in prison, inmates get essentially no preparation for rebuilding their lives upon release. Far too often, they revert to crime — and wind up back in prison.

Opponents of the First Step Act argue that passing this limited measure would relieve pressure on Congress and the administration to address the issues at the heart of the prison problem. My question is: What pressure?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to push sentencing reform legislation through the Senate, and I hope he succeeds. But how is anyone going to get such a bill through the House, with its much more conservative GOP majority? How is anyone going to get Sessions on board? Or convince Trump to sign it?

If Democrats take control of the House in November, they will be able to revisit the issue anytime they want — but they will have real clout to go along with their passion. Nothing in the current bill precludes bolder, more comprehensive action when the votes, and the president's pen, are lined up and ready.

If the First Step Act were a close call — and I don't think it is — the balance would be tipped by the prisoners eligible for immediate release. They want to hug their children, and they have earned the chance.

Eugene Robinson is a columnist and an associate editor of The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

May 23, 2019

From now on, the Trump-Russia affair — the investigation that dominated the first years of Donald Trump's presidency — will be divided into two parts: before and after the release of Robert Mueller's report. Before the special counsel's findings were made public last month, the…

Byron York.jpg

May 22, 2019

Presidential contenders are in a battle to out give one another. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes a whopping $50,000 per student college loan forgiveness. Sen. Bernie Sanders proposes free health care for all Americans plus illegal aliens. Most Democratic presidential candidates promise free stuff…

Walter Williams

May 21, 2019

Not that long ago, North Carolina Democrats had the "big tent" party — an eclectic group that shared common values but disagreed on many individual issues.

Moderate — sometimes even conservative — rural Democrats in the legislature worked alongside big city liberals. The moderates…

Colin Campbell

May 21, 2019

Later this week, North Carolina will renew its partnership with a little-known country that's been bringing out the best in our state's people for more than two decades.

North Carolina's National Guard has been helping the country's defense forces throughout this time. Librarians from Wilmington…

David Jarmul

May 20, 2019

North Carolina appropriates less taxpayer money to state colleges and universities in real terms than it did before the onset of the Great Recession. Tuition has risen markedly and now accounts for a larger share of total revenue. But our state remains one of the most generous in the country when…

john hood.jpg

May 20, 2019

How many people have the ability to manipulate the stock market? One, and this isn’t a trick question. We’re watching how President Trump’s statements about slapping tariffs on China one day, or the great headway he’s making on a China trade deal the next day can tank the…

eleanorclift.jpg.jpg

May 19, 2019

The Washington Post

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has said she does not think anyone would argue that the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre should have been able to livestream mass murder. Maybe that question elicits something close to unanimity — but in trying to…

May 19, 2019

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, adding his voice to calls to "break up" the social media giant, calls it a "powerful monopoly, eclipsing all of its rivals and erasing competition." In recent years, we've seen similar claims, and heard demands for similar remedies, aimed at Google, Amazon, and…

Knapp

May 19, 2019

With a competent president in the White House, the escalating confrontation with Iran would not rise to the level of crisis. With President Trump calling the shots, we should be afraid. Very afraid.

A rational president, of course, would not have abandoned the landmark deal that halted Iran's…

Eugene Robinson

May 18, 2019

I’ve been watching the emerging election for North Carolina’s Senate seat and wonder if we are seeing symptoms of a larger trend. Our traditional tribalism — Republicans and Democrats — has morphed into contentious sub-tribes within each party. Instead of a sure re-…

Tom Campbell.jpg
249 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 25
        Next Page»   Last Page»