The time for debate and political posturing is over. It’s now time to do the right thing and pass The First Step Act legislation.
This bill not only enjoys bipartisan support, the type of reform included in this bill is also supported by nearly 80 percent of Americans. How rare is it in this day and age that so many from both sides of the aisle, from every culture and every demographic, find common ground on anything?
Also on board with this legislation are 121 former federal prosecutors and senior government law enforcement officials, one former U.S. attorney general, five former U.S. deputy attorneys general, one former FBI director, one former U.S. solicitor general, one former associate U.S. attorney general, two former acting U.S. attorneys general, one former DOJ inspector general, one former U.S. attorneys executive director, 13 former district and appellate judges, along with a number of other U.S. district attorneys. All of these mentioned signed onto a letter written by Representative Doug Collins in May of this year in support of this legislation.
The First Step Act is particularly welcomed for reforming the federal three-strikes rule that mandates a life sentence for three or more convictions. This rule has been credited with exploding U.S. prison populations and out-of-control prison-system costs, while proving time and time again to be ineffective at combatting crime and making it much harder on correctional officers charged with keeping order and safety in these environments. The three-strikes rule has ruined the lives of people who were sentenced to life or given long sentences despite committing low-level crimes.
Solving the Recidivism Crisis
The data indicates around 77 percent of inmates are re-arrested within five years of being released. We know that this is often largely due to former prisoners having difficulty reintegrating into society. A cornerstone of the the First Step Act is directly addressing this issue of recidivism by preparing prisoners to re-enter society through job-training programs, educational opportunities, and most importantly, by working to combat the many mental health issues that are often the root cause of what leads to incarceration.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “The First Step Act calls for more funding for federal prison programs and incentivizes prisoners to complete the programs in order to hopefully reduce the likelihood of inmates committing new crimes once released from prison. At the same time, the legislation provides additional safeguards to ensure that violent prisoners are not released and that community safety remains the top priority."
Isn't that exactly what any prison reform act should aspire to?
The First Step Act and Incarcerated Women
The First Step Act addresses many injustices that relate to women’s incarceration.
Women are now the fastest growing population in U.S. prisons. An estimated 25 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant at the time of their arrest or have given birth during the year prior to incarceration, in many states, while chained to the bed. According to one study, 80 percent of women in prison are mothers; yet many are sent hundreds of miles from their families making visitation almost impossible.
I think we can all agree shackling pregnant women is barbaric. The First Step Act includes a ban on this practice.
It’s Time to Act
The number of inmates in federal prisons grew from 25,000 in 1980 to over 200,000 in 2015, drastically outpacing the growth of the U.S. population. During that same period, taxpayer spending on incarceration more than tripled and grew to a whopping $80 billion. The Congressional Research Service points to a similarly dramatic increase in spending as well. The core of the proposed prison reform agenda is to significantly affect the lives of non-violent offenders in both sentencing, rehabilitation services, and reentry into everyday life, including issues that have been a significant cause of preventing returning citizens from getting the jobs they need to live and support their families.
The overwhelming bipartisan support, combined with endorsement from law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors, make this an absolute no-brainer. The job of the legislative branch of government is to represent the wishes and will of the people they were sent to represent. What we’re asking is not outlandish. We’re simply asking you to represent us and do the right thing now. People’s lives and the future of thousands of Americans, families of incarcerated men and women, are dependent upon our elected officials to get this right. We have assurance the president will sign this bill, so now is the time to get it done.
If there were stronger words I could use to compel Senate Majority Leader McConnell to bring the First Step Act to a vote, and to do it now, I would use them. This is long overdue, and the will of the people is clear. Bring this legislation to the floor and call for a vote before this session ends.
What better time of year to offer hope and grace than Christmas?
Pastor Jentezen Franklin is the Senior Pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church. Each week his television program "Kingdom Connection" is broadcast on major networks all over the world. A New York Times best-selling author, Jentezen has written nine books including his most recent, "Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt," the groundbreaking "Fasting" and "Right People-Right Place-Right Plan." Jentezen and his wife Cherise have been married 31 years, have five children and four grandchildren, and make their home in Gainesville, Georgia. To read more of his articles — Click Here Now.
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