Reformers Take ‘First Step’ Forward, But Then One Back

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Criminal-justice reform advocates barely had time to celebrate the president’s endorsement of a new bipartisan sentencing and prison bill before clouds formed over their reverie. The Washington Post reports that acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker has privately voiced concerns directly to President Trump about drug-sentencing provisions in the bill, according to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), with whom Whitaker met Thursday. “He said he doesn’t want to kill it,” Graham said. “He just wanted to express his concerns.” While Senate opponents of the bill marshal their forces, Republic leaders continue to voice skepticism that enough time remains in the lame-duck session to proceed with the bill this year. The legislation also faced more setbacks on Thursday when the National Sheriffs’ Association and several other law enforcement groups released a letter announcing that they would oppose the criminal justice overhaul bill “in its current form.”

The New York Times reported on the bill’s many compromises and limitations, which have some advocates calling it more a cop out than a systemic overhaul, even though some sentencing provisions got added after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a strong opponent. The bill makes shorter sentences for crack cocaine retroactive for a few thousand inmates. It increases the number of people eligible to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences, but only by a nudge. And it reduces the three-strikes penalty from life to a still-lengthy 25 years. Less than 4 percent of the federal prison population, about 7,000 people, might get out early, and the federal prison system houses less than 10 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million inmates. Still, the Times notes, many families say even modest reform will improve a deeply flawed system and free many people.

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