Mr. President, I come to the floor today to urge my colleagues to join us in supporting the first step act, a bipartisan legislation that will make needed changes to federal sentencing rules and prison reform. A number of us have been working on this issue for years but I do want to thank Chairman Grassley, who is here with us today, and Senator Feinstein for their leadership in getting it through the judiciary committee as well as Senator Durbin, who has been a long-time leader on this issue, Senator Booker, who has worked so hard on this as well, Senator Whitehouse, Senator Cornyn, who is here with us today, and many others, Senator Lee, who has really made this and took on this cause at times when it wasn't as easy as it is right now at the end of the year, and I want to thank the administration for working with us on this bill as well.

As a former chief prosecutor in Minnesota's largest county, I understand the need to use our resources to target the most serious offenders to maintain public safety. You have to make decisions in those kinds of jobs every day, decisions about your priorities, where you're going to put your criminal justice money, what's the safest thing to do for the community, and knowing that a number of our offenders do re-enter into society, what is the best way to make sure that if they do come back into society, that they are going to be functioning members of society, that they are not going to go back to drugs or that they are not going to commit additional crimes. So all of those things. It's fine to just pretend that it's not happening, that people are going away forever, and some people rightfully do. Violent criminals, murderers, they don't come out again but a number of other offenders do come out again, so the question is what do we do to make it most safe for our community and to allow them to be functioning members of our society. That is really what this bill is about at its core.

We need a justice system that both protects the victims of crime and punishes those who break the law. One time someone once said that prosecutors, my old job, were ministers of justice and that's what we're doing with this bill here. We are acknowledging that there are issues with our criminal justice system that we have to deal with. We're not just closing our eyes and pretending it's fine to just pretend everyone goes away forever when we know they don't. So some people are coming out and they should come back out again and the first step act gets at those hard issues. Our criminal justice system must administer justice fairly. The sentencing laws on low level drug offenders were implemented decades ago and in a number of cases, they have diverted limited law enforcement resources away from important public safety initiatives that would allow us to actually go after violent criminals and they have resulted in prison sentences that don't actually fit the crime.

Today, our country has over 20% of the world's incarcerated people even though we only have less than 5% of the world's population. We need a criminal justice system that works for our communities. That's why I have fought for bipartisan criminal justice reform for years. As a former prosecutor, I have long supported important policies including more law enforcement resources. I lead that bill with Senator Murkowski on the cops program to get more law enforcement resources to our police. I think that is very important. I worked hand in hand with our local police in Minnesota for eight years. They have very hard jobs. As a former prosecutor, I have also supported important policies that make it better for the community and the police to work together. That includes better training for our law enforcement, that includes videotaped interrogations, that includes reforms to the eyewitness process. We were one of the first states that made some changes there. That includes body cameras, diversity in hiring and meaningful work between law enforcement and our citizens, fair jury selection processes. There are a number of things that we have done but must continue to do to increase that trust between the community and our law enforcement.

As a member of the senate judiciary committee, I supported the bipartisan sentencing reform and correction act for years. My colleagues and I worked across party lines to pass that bill out of committee earlier in February and last congress as well. Although the bill was never brought to the floor of the senate until this week, today we finally have an opportunity to make meaningful progress. The First Step Act represents a concerted bipartisan effort to strike an effective balance to improve the fair administration of justice while keeping our communities safe. Even though this bill is not perfect, it is a result of compromises between two sides and people with a lot of different views and many groups that are here to advocate for citizens, it is a compromise that has the endorsement of groups, and we don't usually see this, ranging from the fraternal order of police to the ACLU. This bill represents a critical opportunity that shouldn't be lost. One of the most important reforms in this bill are the changes to mandatory minimums. We all know people who have been caught up in a criminal justice system that can be unfair. I believe strongly in enforcing our laws on the books and putting criminal offenders behind bars to protect public safety, but for nonviolent, low level drug offenders, there are more innovative and evidence-based ways to deal with them than longer prison sentences.

The First Step Act allows judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for low level nonviolent drug offenders who work with the government. It also reduces some of the longest sentences now on the books, including decreasing the second strike mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reduces the third strike mandatory minimum of life in prison to 25 years. This bill includes a crucial provision to allow people who are sentenced under discriminatory drug laws which required a longer mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of crack than for the possession of the same amount of cocaine to petition to be resentenced under the reform guidelines that we passed in 2010. Significantly, this bill will not automatically reduce any one person's prison sentence. Instead, the bill simply allows people to petition courts and prosecutors for an individualized review based on the particular facts of their case. That is what justice is supposed to be about. It is not always a one size fits all. It gives the people that work in the justice system, knowing that you have mandatory minimums that are still in place, knowing that you want to have fairness across the system, but it allows judges and prosecutors to look at an individualized case and decide what's best for public safety and what's best for the community. By giving prosecutors and judges this discretion, we will give them the tools to better see that justice is done.

The First Step Act also incorporates much-needed reforms to our federal prisons to treat people more humanely and to encourage participation in programs intended to help people from committing another crime after their release. In my old job as Hennepin County attorney, I always said we would try as much as possible to run our office like a business. We would be efficient. We would keep track of what we were doing. We would be accountable to the public and show them what the results were with regard to our prosecutions and the numbers and what the sentences would be. We did all that. One of the things that i also knew was that while you want to run government as much as possible, as efficiently as a business, there's one way that we weren't like a business in the criminal justice system. We did not want to see repeat customers in our doors. That is not what you want when you're running a prosecutor's office. We wanted to make sure that people could get their lives back and their acts together so they didn't keep cycling through the criminal justice system.

This bill, the First Step Act, includes a provision to require that federal prisoners be placed in a facility as close to their primary residence as possible. That makes sure that families aren't separated and they can continue to have visitors. One of the things that we know is really important for them to make that transition when they get back in the community. This straightforward change is an important step toward reducing recidivism because research suggests that people who maintain contact with their families while they serve time are less likely to commit crimes after they are released. Other key provisions in this legislation expand access to treatment and education. I look at this two ways. One, when i first became a lawyer at a private law firm in the twin cities, i actually got involved in a program called amicus where we went to visit people in the prison. I visited a woman through a number of years until I became the chief DA. that got a little awkward. But she went on to serve her sentence and go back out into the community, and that program was really the community saying we want to keep the thought out there that there is hope that these people are going to get out at some point and you have role models and people willing to work with them. I saw that work with my own eyes. The other reason I care so much about this part of the bill is that I am a child of an alcoholic, of someone who went through treatment, who after a number of DWIs, was finally pushed into treatment and it changed his life. In his own words, he was pursued by grace. And I think that other people, whether they are in the prison system or not, should be able to have that same opportunity for themselves and for their kids. I was able to see my dad literally climb the highest mountains as an adventurer and mountain climber and a columnist, but sink to the lowest valleys because of the disease of alcoholism. And you see that all the time in our prison system, whether it's drugs, whether it is alcohol, that is one of the reasons that people get involved in crime, to feed their addiction or because they are not functioning normally and making decisions that they would make if they weren't addicted. This bill encourages the use of evidence-based treatment for opioid and heroin abuse and will help to address the addiction that is the root cause of so many crimes.

I come from a state that believes in treatment. We're known as the land of 10,000 lakes and every so often people jokingly call it the land of 10,000 treatment centers. That includes, of course, Betty Ford, Hazelden, we are very proud of their work, but also multiple other treatment centers in our state, and it's a major part of our criminal justice system and our drug court. We had one of the first major drug courts in the country and I have continued to carry on that work as a senator. Taken together, the prison reforms in this bill and the recidivism reforms and the reentry reforms are an important step that will help us to make progress toward reducing the number of repeat offenders.

As a prosecutor, I always believed that our job was to serve the cause of justice. That was to convict the guilty, but protect the innocent. Sometimes, the innocent are of course the victims of crimes. That's the first thing that comes to your mind. But the innocent are also people who are unfairly accused of crimes and that's why it's so important to have all these measures in place, whether it is videotaped interrogations or jury selection that's fair, to make sure our process is fair. But at some point, when someone has served their sentence and turned their life around, they go from guilty which they once were to having a chance to go out there as an innocent person that's just trying to lead their lives. That's what our job is as senators, to do justice, to make sure that we have rules in place that make sure the guilty go behind bars if they have committed a serious crime, but that we protect the innocent. And that includes the families of victims but also the families of offenders. ... The former chair of the judiciary committee who work so hard on this as well. So many people have contributed to the effort from the left and from the right. From the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It's a victory for justice today as we consider this bill. I urge my colleagues supported. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.