Criminal Justice

Trump backs sentencing reform bill that shortens mandatory minimums, expands 'safety valves'

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President Donald Trump endorsed bipartisan sentencing and prison reform legislation on Wednesday that shortens some mandatory minimum sentences and promotes vocational training in prison.

The proposed legislation is known as the First Step Act, report the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN and a White House press release. The New York Times describes the provisions here.

Trump said he is “waiting with a pen” to sign the legislation, which provides “reasonable sentencing reforms while keeping dangerous and violent criminals off our streets.” Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois are lead co-sponsors of the legislation, which builds on a prison reform measure passed in the House earlier this year.

The First Step Act includes these provisions:

• Mandatory minimum sentences would be shortened from 20 to 15 years for serious violent crimes and serious drug offenses.

• The sentence for third-strike crimes would be reduced from life in prison to 25 years in prison, and fewer offenders would qualify for the three-strikes penalty.

• More nonviolent drug offenders would qualify for “safety valves” in which judges have the authority to bypass mandatory minimum sentences.

• A 2010 law reducing sentencing the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine offense would be applied retroactively.

• Sentences would no longer be stacked for first-time offenders who possess a firearm in connection with other federal crimes.

• Certain nonviolent offenders will be able to petition courts for review of their sentences.

• Inmates who participate in vocational training, educational classes or faith-based programs can earn reduced prison time.

• Pregnant inmates would no longer be shackled.

The ABA has taken positions on some of the issues addressed in the bill. The positions include support for a ban on mandatory minimum sentences, retroactive application of the bill eliminating crack and powder cocaine disparities, and rehabilitation programs in prison.

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