Syrita Bowen News, Press

Years in the Making, The First Step Act Marks A Rare Bipartisan Victory Addressing The Broken Federal Criminal Justice System

Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris: “The passage of this bill is a Christmas miracle.”

(Washington, DC) – Today, history was made when President Trump signed historic criminal justice reform legislation, the First Step Act, into law. The measure, which has been years in the making, is the most comprehensive criminal justice reform ever passed by both chambers of U.S. Congress. The bipartisan legislation received overwhelming support from Members of Congress in an era of strict partisanship, finally passing the U.S. Senate with a vote of 87-12 and the U.S. House with a vote of 358-36. 

“Today marks the dawning of a new era for America’s justice system. Years in the making, the First Step Act begins the process of turning us toward policies that prioritize fairness, rehabilitation, and public safety,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director of Justice Action Network. “The unprecedented bipartisan coalition that pushed this bill across the finish line—from #Cut50 and the Brennan Center for Justice on the left, to FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union on the right—will long be remembered, not only for working together to pass a groundbreaking prison and sentencing reform bill, but also for helping to change the culture in Washington forever. The passage of this bill is a Christmas miracle for so many American families who have been impacted by our broken justice system, and we are hopeful that the First Step Act represents the beginning of a renaissance period for criminal justice reform and bipartisan cooperation all across the country.” 

Jason Pye, Vice President of Legislative Affairs, FreedomWorks

“We are so incredibly thankful for President Trump’s support of the First Step Act. This has been a years-long effort that we are proud to have been a part of. We look forward to continuing this great work. It’s clear that we still have so much to do to reintegrate the formerly incarcerated back into society through second chance initiatives. We also still have so much to do on sentencing reform. As the name implies, the First Step Act is only the beginning of the larger effort to bring the successes of the states to the federal justice system.” 

Jessica Jackson, National Director and Cofounder of #cut50

“This victory truly belongs to the thousands of people who, like me, have been personally impacted by incarceration and have dedicated their lives to improving the system. This bill was informed by their experiences. Their stories helped win over the President’s support. Tomorrow, they will help ensure we implement this bill quickly and effectively.”

Kevin Ring, President, FAMM

“Today is a day to celebrate. We are so happy for the thousands of families who will get their incarcerated loved ones home a little sooner – and, in some cases, a lot sooner. The broad support from organizations across the political spectrum helped make this moment happen. The First Step Act might be a small first step, but it is finally a step in the right direction.”  

Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy at Prison Fellowship

“By signing this bill into law, the President and Members of Congress are showing we have learned from the past and are now choosing a more restorative path forward on criminal justice reform. When people receive sentences that don’t fit their crime, America loses. Disproportional sentences are an affront to the dignity of people made in the image of God and erode faith in the notion of equal justice under the law.”

Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress:

“The Center for American Progress applauds the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act, an important milestone on the path toward true comprehensive criminal justice system reform. This legislation will help a substantial number of people who have been incarcerated for too long and have not received nearly enough support to succeed when they return to their communities and families. Passage of the FIRST STEP Act shows the American people that Washington can actually enact laws that help people in tangible ways if those in leadership would start prioritizing people over politics.”

American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp:

“Government often gets things wrong, and it is no different with the federal prison system. Our incarceration rates are unacceptably high, and we waste billions of tax dollars warehousing prisoners. Rather than leaving them on a course to fail and reoffend, we should be preparing them to be productive members of society. This bill is a good first step.”

Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy 

“The NAACP thanks Members of Congress, coalition partners, and the Administration for their leadership and courage in moving our Nation to finally beginning to repair our broken criminal justice system. Passage of the First Step Act is a crucial new beginning in addressing major problems, from sentencing reform and incarceration to effective rehabilitation.  The NAACP looks forward to continuing to work with groups and individuals from all different perspectives to build on what we have done here.”

Tim Head, Executive Director, Faith and Freedom Coalition

“Faith & Freedom Coalition has fought for the past four years to enact meaningful reform to the federal justice system, and with President Donald Trump’s signing of the First Step Act, that hard work and determination has culminated in a law that will make the public safer by giving inmates a second chance to become contributing members of society and return home as good spouses, parents and neighbors.”

Marc Levin, Vice President of Criminal Justice Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation

This is not only a first step, but the beginning of a new, bipartisan approach to federal criminal justice policy anchored in the values of limited government, public safety, and the dignity and potential for redemption in every person. Having started the work of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in criminal justice in 2005 and then our Right on Crime initiative in 2010, I am gratified that congressional leaders and the President recognized that the successful reforms that began in Texas and spread to dozens of other states could help transform the federal system.

As the country’s largest bipartisan criminal justice reform advocacy organization, Justice Action Network serves as a national hub for bipartisan cooperation in the criminal justice reform space. Working through dozens of funded partners on the right and the left, JAN has assisted in the passage of dozens of significant reform bills across the country. JAN credits groups including FreedomWorks, #Cut50, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Conservative Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, Prison Fellowship, Right on Crime, the Center for American Progress, the Fraternal Order of Police, the U.S. Chamber, and so many more for linking arms and moving forward in lockstep to advance these federal reforms.

 # # #