Criminal justice reform clears Congress, heads to Trump

WASHINGTON: The US House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass historic criminal justice reform, sending the sweeping package to Donald Trump in a major bipartisan victory for the president.

The measure, which cleared the Senate earlier in the week, paves the way for the most significant change to America’s justice system in decades.

The First Step Act includes provisions to ease heavy sentences for certain offenders, give judges more discretion in sentencing low-level criminals, and improve prison conditions for women, among others.

“Members of Congress came together to write a bill that reduces the impact of draconian mandatory minimums, and makes progress to address discriminatory sentencing laws,“ top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi said.

The legislation “will bring hope, healing and renewal to thousands of lives.”

Trump has said he will sign the measure into law.

“America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes,“ Trump tweeted after the Senate passed the bill earlier in the week.

It passed the House by a vote of 358 to 36.

“These reforms to our criminal justice system will not only reduce recidivism and make communities safer, but they will help people into lives of purpose,“ said outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan.

One element of the bill would make retroactive the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which altered sentencing guidelines to treat crack and powder cocaine offenses equally. According to government figures, that alone would impact over 2,600 inmates.

But the bill will only affect America’s federal inmates, of which there are 180,789, according to the latest figures from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total US incarcerated population was over 2.1 million at the end of 2016. — AFP

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