Jeffries historic criminal justice reform bill signed into law

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries’ historic, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, S.756, was signed into law late last week.

The First Step Act of 2018 is based on the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (FIRST STEP), co-authored by Jeffries, representative for New York’s 8th Congressional District, and Republican Congressman Doug Collins, representative for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District. (GA-09). The bill had overwhelmingly passed the House in May.

Jeffries said the legislation will propel formerly-incarcerated individuals toward success when they return home, while enacting targeted reforms that would improve public safety and reduce recidivism.

The measure authorizes $375 million over five years to develop new programs, including education, vocational training and mental health counseling.

“Consequently, newly-released individuals will be positioned to successfully re-enter society,” Jeffries said.

With respect to sentencing reform, he said the FIRST STEP Act will increase public safety and “engineer much-needed changes to draconian sentencing laws connected to the failed war on drugs.

“It modifies the three strikes law to make it more humane, increases judicial discretion to reduce sentences for low-level nonviolent drug offenders and provides retroactive relief for thousands unjustly sentenced during the crack-cocaine era,” Jeffries said.

The FIRST STEP Act passed the House of Representatives 358-36 and the Senate 87-12 last week.

“The FIRST STEP Act is a victory for all Americans who believe in justice and the power of redemption,” Jeffries said. “This bill will transform lives by providing access to the mental health counseling, education, job training and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of society.

“It also provides retroactive relief for the shameful crack cocaine sentencing disparity that unfairly destroyed lives, families and communities,” he added. “The FIRST STEP Act is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. It’s simply the end of the beginning of a bipartisan journey to eradicate the mass incarceration epidemic in America.”

Before 2010, Jeffries said those convicted for crack cocaine-related issues received a sentence 100 times harsher than that of those convicted of cocaine-related offenses.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity to 18-1.

Jeffries said FIRST STEP makes that change retroactive, “thereby reducing the sentences of thousands of individuals serving unduly heavy sentences.”

He said FIRST STEP curtails juvenile solitary confinement, saying that “no young person should be kept in solitary confinement, which can cause substantial psychological damage.

“This provision severely limits the use of juvenile solitary confinement,” Jeffries said.

He said the FIRST STEP Act “enjoys the support” of more than 70 organizations, including the Equal Justice Initiative, National Urban League, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Gathering for Justice/Justice League NYC, the Charles Koch Foundation, #cut50, Public Defender Association and the CAN-DO Foundation.

Jeffries is the incoming Democratic Caucus Chair, which will make him the fifth-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives during the 116th Congress.

His 8th Congressional district includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

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