US House passes Brooklyn Congressman’s prison reform bill

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to pass the most substantial prison reform effort to date, co-sponsored by Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

H.R. 5682, the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (FIRST STEP), is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Jeffries, representative for the 8th Congressional District in Brooklyn and parts of Queens, and Georgia Republican Congressman Doug Collins.

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

He said the bill authorizes $50 million per year for five years to develop new programs, including education, vocational training and mental health counseling.

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

The bill easily passed the House with a 360-59 bipartisan vote.

“Passage of 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, vocational services and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of society.

“The FIRST STEP Act is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end,” he added. “It’s simply the end of the beginning on a journey undertaken to eradicate our mass incarceration epidemic in America. Rep. Collins should be commended for his tremendous leadership in this critical effort.”

Collins said: “This afternoon, my colleagues seized the opportunity to help men, women and their communities through federal prison reform.

“Today’s vote puts redemption back on the table for individuals who are committed to building brighter futures for themselves and their loved ones,” he said. “Today’s vote recognizes the value of every person and responds with proven resources and restorative justice.”

A provision of the bill would ensure that incarcerated individuals can earn the 54 days of good time credit per year that Congress intended, and not just the 47 days that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) currently allows. This retroactively applies to all prisoners who have earned credit for good behavior.

It has been estimated by BOP and Government Accounting Office (GAO) that fixing this will lead to the release of roughly 4,000 prisoners and save $40 million in the first fiscal year, Jeffries said.

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

The bill, which is supported by the White House, will now move to the U.S. Senate.

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