Judiciary Committee Sends FIRST STEP Act for House Vote
WASHINGTON—The House Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act with a bipartisan vote today, sending the legislation to the House floor.
“When we think about strengthening the justice system, we want to ask whether we assign men and women in prison to a strictly punitive road, or if we can also offer them a redemptive path forward, one that restores families and communities? The bipartisan support we saw in the Judiciary Committee today reflects the resolve that I’ve seen among my colleagues to take positive strides towards a restorative justice system. The FIRST STEP Act would help individuals take responsibility for their decisions and become agents of positive change in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.
“I believe we can use this kind of progress to build a bridge toward additional reforms and safer communities in the days ahead, and I’m thankful to be joined in this work by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Congresswoman Karen Bass and insightful lawmakers who understand that this kind of sound policy is how we promote human dignity in our prisons and across our society,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).
Reps. Collins and Jeffries (D-N.Y.) introduced the prison reform initiative aimed at lowering recidivism and prison populations through rehabilitative programing this Monday. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Prison reform initiatives have demonstrated success in state systems, including Georgia's, and the FIRST STEP Act would enable the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to capitalize on similar resources at the federal level. The legislation would direct the BOP to conduct risk- and needs-assessments for every offender upon sentencing, and then to offer individualized, evidence-based recidivism reduction plans to all inmates, without exception. Programs could include vocational training, educational support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, faith-based initiatives or other resources proven to lower the chance that men and women reoffend.
The FIRST STEP Act would also prepare individuals to reenter their communities as responsible citizens by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement, which equips them with support structures as they transition out of custody. As inmates progress through rehabilitation plans tailored to their needs and approach the end of their sentences, the BOP would conduct risk- and needs-assessments more frequently in order to document when individuals have successfully reduced their risk of reoffending and to ensure that the most appropriate resources remain available to them during the reentry process.
Additional provisions of the bill would require that prisoners be placed in facilities located nearer their families, that female inmates have access to certain health care products, and that individuals leaving custody would receive identification documents that are often pre-requisites for employment.