Behind the scenes on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We had worked so darned hard and got such an overwhelming vote to get the bill out of committee, why should we settle for less than the whole package we had been working on for two years?”
 
The New York Times’  Carl Hulse went behind the scenes of the fight to add sentencing reforms to the FIRST STEP Act.  The bill, shepherded by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), was introduced Thursday night with the support of Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Chris Coons (D-DE). The proposed package of prison and sentencing reforms was also backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and received a strong endorsement from President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has committed to bringing the FIRST STEP Act to the floor if it has the support of at least 60 senators.
 
“When veterans court says this is a second chance for veterans to be successful in life, we really mean it.”
 
Salt Lake City’s veterans court, now in its third year, allows servicemen and women to have their convictions cleared or reduced after successfully completing a program tailored to their needs and experiences. Participants meet with judges and case managers, complete recommended mental health or addiction treatment programs, and are matched with mentors who also served in the military. Most of the program’s participants served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  
 
“These persistent, horrific wildfires year after year make this human rights issue even more pressing for the men and women fighting these fires every day who cannot do so once released.”
 
California’s inmate firefighters are on the front lines battling wildfires across the state, but most are ineligible to become professional firefighters once they are released from prison. The state’s occupational licensing boards block anyone with a criminal record from being certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, a requirement for most professional firefighters. Legislation passed earlier this year would allow some former inmate firefighters to be certified as Emergency Medical Responders, qualifying them for jobs with the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. They will still be blocked from employment with local fire departments.
 
“This imprisonment crisis is not felt equally across the state—some communities bear the burden far more than others.”
 
A new report from FWD.us examines the impact of the criminal justice system to communities in Arizona. Researchers analyzed individual-level data on admissions to the state’s prisons, and found significant geographic disparity in admissions, sentence lengths and the use of diversion programs. They also compared Maricopa County to Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which has similar demographics and crime rates, and found that Maricopa County sent six times as many people to prison. Since 2000, both counties have seen reduced crime rates, but Maricopa County has increased its prison admissions by 33%, while Miami-Dade decreased theirs by 46%.               

“The Second Chance Act helps break the cycle of incarceration through drug treatment and job training programs and makes our community safer, saves taxpayer dollars, and most importantly, helps former inmates live up to their God-given potential.” 
 
The Council of State Governments Justice Center marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Second Chance Act with a new report, Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees. Since 2009, Second Chance programs aimed at reducing recidivism have impacted more than 164,000 people, through 900 grants across 49 states. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act this week.