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Sentencing reform bill moves forward in Senate

Many people in Georgia are tracking the progress of the First Step Act, proposed federal legislation for criminal justice reform that is backed by an unusual array of supporters from across the political spectrum. The U.S. Senate voted 82-12 to advance the revised legislation that would lead to a sentence reduction for some federal prisoners if adopted. The proposed bill is supported by President Donald Trump as well as prominent Democratic senators like Cory Booker as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. While the Senate's Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had expressed opposition, he allowed the introductory vote to take place.

The legislation, if passed, would direct the creation of a new system to assess risks, providing prisoners with credits against time served by participating in activities like training, education or work. The bill argues that increasing participation in these types of programs could assist with prisoner rehabilitation. The legislation would only apply to federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the over 2 million Americans currently incarcerated.

Various Republican senators have proposed amendments to the bill, saying that it endangers public safety. However, many organizations pointed out that these amendments are actually designed to block the effectiveness of criminal justice reform. The proposed bill also has provisions to address some particularly problematic sentencing issues. For example, one provision provides for a sentence reduction for people sentenced on crack cocaine charges prior to sentencing equalization with powder cocaine charges in 2010. Despite widespread recognition of racial bias in the law's effect, the changes were not retroactive at the time.

People who are facing criminal charges may feel as if there is no way out of their situation. A criminal defense lawyer can work with people facing allegations to build a strong defense, challenging police and prosecution assertions and working to prevent a conviction.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Bipartisan Bill Reducing Some Criminal Sentences Advances In Senate", Igor Bobic, December 17, 2018

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