U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) released the following statement today on the FIRST STEP Act:
“For years, we’ve been offered a false choice on criminal justice policy. It’s a choice that suggests we are either ‘soft’ on crime or ‘tough’ on crime instead of asking: ‘Are we smart on crime?’ Americans deserve a criminal justice system that is both fair and smart. By passing the FIRST STEP Act, we can make our criminal justice system smarter.
“For too long, sentencing in our country has been overly severe and has disproportionately targeted communities of color – especially Black men. Reforming some of the most draconian federal sentencing laws, including unfair mandatory minimum sentences under two- and three-strikes laws, will make our system more just. Retroactively applying the reduced sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine will make our system more fair. Additionally, allowing judges greater discretion to reduce unfair sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and eliminate unjust sentencing enhancements will make our system smarter. These reforms are long overdue and I’m proud to support them.
“Second, we must embrace the age-old concept of redemption and offer a way back into society for offenders who are serving time. This bill does that by expanding the ability to use good time credits, and by providing people in prison with greater access to education, substance abuse treatment, and job training. It also eliminates the shackling of pregnant prisoners, requires healthcare products for incarcerated women, and ends federal juvenile solitary confinement. These are all good, smart changes that will provide dignity to those serving prison sentences and offer a path out.
“However, to be clear, the FIRST STEP Act is very much just that – a First Step. It is a compromise of a compromise, and we ultimately need to make far greater reforms if we are to right the wrongs that exist in our criminal justice system. All of the Act’s sentencing reforms should be applied retroactively, and the Act should further expand application of earned good time credits, place more prohibitions on private prisons which profit from the incarceration of individuals, and further limit the use of electronic monitoring.
“Despite these concerns, overall, this measure takes positive steps to improve our justice system. I commend Senator Durbin for his steadfast commitment to the reform of our criminal justice system and his leadership on this bill. I also thank Senators Durbin and Booker, Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee and John Lewis, and the civil rights organizations, for standing together with me to demand that meaningful sentencing reforms be included this past May, when the initial version of the FIRST STEP Act failed to include any sentencing reforms at all.
“I have fought to improve our criminal justice system for the better part of my career. This is another step in that direction.”