Opponents of President Trump’s new criminal justice reform say that the new law doesn’t do enough and will set a bad precedent.
“Donald Trump claims he’s taking a step toward desperately needed criminal justice reform but he’s not,” wrote Keith Wattley in an Op-ed in The New York Times. Wattley is a prominent criminal justice advocate and attorney in California.
At issue is the bi-partisan supported legislation known as the First Step Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 21.
“The First Step Act has been described by activists as groundbreaking in the fight to end mass incarceration… (but) I respectfully disagree. This is not a case in which a little reform is better than none,” Wattley adds in the Dec. 4 article.
“It prevents those convicted of the most serious crimes from reducing their sentences, and in doing so it perpetuates the false narrative that people who commit violent crimes are fundamentally different from those who commit non-violent crimes.”
Wattley is executive director of a non-profit called Uncommon Law. The firm provides therapeutic and legal counseling for people serving lengthy prison terms in California.
“More than 200 of our clients have been released from life sentences, and not a single one has gone on to commit a violent crime. But this (law) tells my clients their personal transformation doesn’t matter,” said Wattley.
“I have the greatest respect for Van Jones and his organization #cut50 who fought hard to get this legislation to pass. However, it is my goal to ask all change makers to be mindful that those who have both suffered and perpetrated the greatest harms also have the greatest capacity for transforming themselves and their communities.”
Supporters of the law say it will limit the practice of mandatory minimum sentences and allow nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history to be sentenced below mandatory minimums.
The law would also provide time-reducing credits to some people in federal prison for completing educational, vocational and therapeutic programs. However, violent offenders are excluded.
“The reform would ensure that enhancement and the lengthy sentences they bring are only used on the most dangerous criminals and not spent instead on low level nonviolent drug dealers,” wrote Jason Pye, in an Op-ed in The Hill. Pye is the vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks.
“This kind of ‘smart on crime’ legal approach goes hand in hand with the desire of President Trump to be tough on crime, which is most effective when the right crimes are addressed with the right penalties.”
In direct contrast, Wattley wrote. “While it is tempting to believe that we keep our communities safe by locking up people of violent crimes for as long as possible… People convicted of murder and who have been paroled on a life sentence – are actually the least likely to return to prison…their return rate is roughly 1 percent.”
The new law will reportedly,
– Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for up to 2,000 people annually
– Reduce discrepancy in sentencing crack versus powdered cocaine
– Affect 4,000 people in the federal prison system
– Prohibits the shackling of women during childbirth
– Inmates wont be sent to prisons over 500 miles from their home
– End life sentences under three strikes law
“This the first step, not the end,” said Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durban, co-sponsor of the bill. “We still have a lot of things we still need to do.”