ICYMI: Families of Incarcerated Individuals Urge Congress to Pass FIRST STEP Act

Syrita Bowen News, Press

Bipartisan Group of Officials, Advocates, Formerly Incarcerated Individuals, and Families Gathered in Front of the U.S. Capitol to Rally for Criminal Justice Reform

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Tuesday, Families Against Mandatory Minimums hosted, and the Justice Action Network, Prison Fellowship, FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union, #cut50, and the CAN-DO Foundation co-hosted the “Families for Justice Reform Now” rally calling on Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform legislation. Speakers included elected officials, advocates, formerly incarcerated individuals, and family members of currently or formerly incarcerated individuals, all of whom issued a clear call for action.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the FIRST STEP Act by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 360-59. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, this critical legislation would incorporate vocational and rehabilitative programs that are proven to reduce recidivism rates, and provide incentives for inmates to participate in those programs. The bill would also provide additional funding for prison programs, including education, drug treatment, and job training, and when possible, require inmates to be housed within 500 miles of their families, among other changes.

At Tuesday’s rally, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), an author of the bill, called on the Senate to act on this legislation: “How can we not say that we will take a first step toward giving redemption? The first step toward ending addiction, the first step for putting families back together, the first step toward saying people matter. That is why we are here today. … The time for action is now, the FIRST STEP Act is the best first step we have.”

Holly Harris, the Executive Director of the Justice Action Network, commented on the powerful message sent by Tuesday’s rally: “The overwhelming turnout by lawmakers, advocates, formerly incarcerated individuals, and their families shows that criminal justice reform is an issue that all Americans can unite behind. The FIRST STEP Act is just that: a first step, but a monumental effort towards reuniting families and providing a path to second chances for thousands of people. Now is the time for the Senate to act.”

Kevin Ring, the President of FAMM, outlined why Congress must quickly tackle meaningful criminal justice reform: “This event is about families. Because at FAMM it’s not just about policy, it’s not just about recidivism rates, it’s not about crime rates. It’s about families that are hurting who have been apart from each other for too long, and they’re sick of waiting for Congress to do their job.”

Hannah Sloane, who was only 2 months-old when her father was sentenced to 15 years in prison, spoke about the struggles of growing up with an incarcerated father: “There are ten million kids in America who grew up with a mom or dad behind bars. It makes me wonder, how can we end this cycle? As a kid it is very confusing to watch adults fight over politics instead of helping people solve these problems. I hope our voices today will help our elected representatives understand that there are our real lives and families at stake.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a co-sponsor of the FIRST STEP Act in the Senate, addressed the crowd: “When our federal government is operating at its best and providing these services to people who are coming out of incarceration, that will help propagate the progress we have seen in Rhode Island and Texas and other states, nationally as well.

Sarah Anderson, Policy Analyst at FreedomWorks, spoke to the audience: “Those who are incarcerated are still American, they are still human. And most importantly, nearly all will return soon again to be our neighbors. Ensuring that, once they have paid their due debts to society, these individuals return as productive, dignified, and successful members of our communities is absolutely critical to enhancing public safety and ensuring fiscal responsibility. Frankly is it critical to living out the compassion that we are called to have for one another as humans.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), co-sponsor of the FIRST STEP Act addressed the crowd: “This does not have to be a Republican or Democrat issue. It should be about looking at the individuals and saying does this individual deserve 20 or 30 years in jail for a nonviolent crime? My answer is no.”

“Tuesday’s rally showed lawmakers the human faces impacted by our broken justice system,” said Holly Harris. “Now is the time for the Senate to act, and provide countless American families the broadest relief possible.”

Earlier this year, the Justice Action Network released a poll showing that overwhelming majorities of both registered Republican and Democrat voters believe that our criminal justice system needs significant reforms. By an 85%‐13% margin, voters think that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating people.

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