The bill does some good things but also makes it easier for activist judges to release violent criminals.
What is the main purpose of incarceration? Is it to punish people who break the law? Keep society safe? Rehabilitate offenders? Deter criminal behavior?
Congress’s latest stab at federal criminal-justice reform, officially known as the First Step Act, brings those questions to mind. Or at least it should. But proponents stress that the legislation, a version of which passed the House in May and is now under consideration in the Senate, has “bipartisan” support. That’s true, but it tells us nothing useful about the measure’s merits.
Some of what’s in the legislation would simply enforce existing rules that have long been ignored, such as housing inmates in facilities within 500 miles of their homes or families when possible. The bill would also fund new programs designed to help inmates re-enter society once their sentences are complete. None of this is controversial, and given that all but a small percentage of the incarcerated will be released at some point, focusing on re-entry programs is common sense.
What’s raised concerns among some conservatives—and what ought to give everyone pause—are measures that would reverse or soften tough-on-crime policies from the 1980s and ’90s. The Journal reported last week that the House’s version of the bill allows “some inmates to serve out the final stretch of their sentences in halfway houses or in home confinement,” while the Senate’s version gives “judges more discretion in crafting sentences in some cases and could reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related offenses.” Whoa, horsey.