Bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Klobuchar will make needed changes to federal sentencing rules and prison reforms

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an original cosponsor of the First Step Act, announced today that the Senate has passed the legislation with a strong bipartisan vote of 87-12. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation reflects Klobuchar’s long-standing efforts to reform the criminal justice system to strike a more effective balance in the administration of justice while keeping our communities safe.

“As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand that our criminal justice system must ensure the fair administration of justice while keeping our communities safe,” said Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation makes needed changes to our sentencing laws, while also bringing important reforms to federal prisons. I have worked to advance legislation to address these issues for years as a member of the Judiciary Committee, and this bill represents a critical opportunity that shouldn’t go to waste.”

The First Step Act is a compromise between prison reform proposals that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year, and sentencing reform provisions from the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act—which was cosponsored by Senator Klobuchar and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February by a vote of 16-5. The bill seeks to change overly harsh sentencing laws on low-level drug offenders and incorporates much-needed reforms to our federal prisons intended to reduce recidivism rates.

In addition to being endorsed by President Trump and cosponsored by 38 members of the Senate, the bill has broad support from law enforcement and civil liberties groups, including The National Fraternal Order of Police, 172 former federal prosecutors, and sheriffs from 34 states across the country.

The following is a summary of key aspects of the legislation: 

Reducing Federal Recidivism and Crime

· Provides for increased programming designed to reduce recidivism and provides incentives for participation in those programs.

· Implements a post-sentencing dynamic risk assessment system to determine an inmate’s risk of committing more crimes upon release from prison.

· Establishes eligibility criteria for and incentivizes participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs by allowing prisoners to earn time credits for prerelease custody (defined as residential reentry centers or, for low risk prisoners, home confinement). For example, a prisoner may earn 10 days of time credit for every 30 days of successful participation in a recidivism-reduction program or other eligible activity. However, only prisoners classified as minimum or low risk may redeem these time credits to reduce their sentence.

· In addition to the exclusion preventing all but those classified as minimum or low risk from redeeming time credits, the bill makes clear that violent and high-risk criminals convicted of certain serious offenses are ineligible for the pre-release custody program, including those convicted of crimes relating to terrorism, murder, sexual exploitation of children, espionage, violent firearms offenses, or those that are organizers, leaders, managers, supervisors in the fentanyl and heroin drug trade.

Preparing Inmates for Successful Return to Society

· Provides more meaningful employment and training opportunities for inmates by expanding the federal prison industries program.

· Requires the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to submit a report and evaluation of the current pilot program to treat heroin and opioid abuse through medication—assisted treatment.

· Extends the compassionate elderly release provision from the Second Chance Act that allows the prisoner to request for his or her compassionate release if he or she meets the requirements set out in the law.

· Codifies BOP’s rules that generally prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates except those who are an immediate and credible flight risk or threat of harm to herself or others.

· Mandates inmates be housed no more than 500 miles from the prisoner’s primary residence and grants authority for prisoners to save earnings in an escrow account used for pre-release expenses, such as transportation and housing.

· Clarifies the formula by which the BOP calculates good time credit (time off for good behavior) in line with original Congressional intent. Under current law, prisoners can earn up to 54 days per year for good behavior in prison, but technicalities in the law keep prisoners on early release from utilizing those days.

Enhancing Prison Security and Officer Safety

· Requires the Director of BOP to provide a secure storage area outside the secure perimeter for employees to store firearms or to allow for vehicle lock boxes for firearms.

· Directs the Director of BOP to provide de-escalation training as part of the regular training requirements of correctional officers.

Broadcast quality footage of Klobuchar’s floor speech on criminal justice reform from earlier today can be found here.