Loading...
BYH to all who have yard signs supporting NC hog farming. Yes, farms = food. And clean water = life. Reasonable people...

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

October 20, 2018

Many are saying that the Nov. 6 elections are all about Trump, a referendum either affirming or refuting his leadership. Our president casts a big shadow, especially in Congressional races, but there’s more than just the Trump factor at play.

Once in a blue moon there is no major statewide…

Tom Campbell.jpg

October 20, 2018

If there was any doubt as to why the Saudis might think the leadership of this country would look the other way on the atrocity they are alleged to have committed against our colleague Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump erased it Thursday night.

The president of the United States, who has long…

Karen Tumulty

October 19, 2018

Los Angeles Times

The Trump administration on Monday unveiled its latest proposal for reining in the cost of pharmaceuticals: requiring television advertisements for prescription drugs to display the price tag of the medication being promoted. For the 10 drugs seen most often on TV, the…

October 19, 2018

President Trump's constant, relentless, remorseless lying is a central feature of his presidency, an unprecedented threat to our democracy and — in my view — an impeachable offense.

I realize it does not qualify as news that Trump lies all the time. I also realize it is not always…

Eugene Robinson

October 18, 2018

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., shouldn't be underestimated as a political strategist or written off as an ideological twin of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. She has done three smart things in the early preseason of the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

First, she rolled out what is…

Jennifer Rubin

October 18, 2018

It's been noted a million times that Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to take control of the House of Representatives in next month's midterm elections. Nearly all analysis has focused on how many seats Republicans might lose.

Less noticed is the fact that the GOP will likely pick up a small…

Byron York.jpg

October 17, 2018

After the roller-coaster ride of 2016's election night, have journalists and political junkies learned not to let conventional wisdom substitute for hard knowledge?

Nate Silver, the closest thing there is to a celebrity in the arcane field of statistical journalism, is not wildly optimistic about…

Margaret Sullivan

October 17, 2018

Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seeking to represent New York's 14th Congressional District, has called for the abolition of the Electoral College. Her argument came on the heels of the Senate's confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

She was lamenting the fact that Chief…

Walter Williams

October 16, 2018

The Washington Post

The loss by the Cleveland Indians last week to the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series brought the team's 2018 season, too soon for fans, to an end. It also marked the end — none too soon — of the team's use of its racist logo. Good riddance to…

October 16, 2018

Per-capita consumption of sugar and other caloric sweeteners was down in the U.S. in 2017 for the third straight year — and 13th out of the past 18. And this time, consumption of refined sugar, which had been rising over the past decade as consumers (and soft-drink makers) turned away from…

FOX
291 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 30
        Next Page»   Last Page»