12 Dec 2018 ‘First Step Act’ Criticized by Black Conservatives as Harmful to Minority Communities
Bill Undermines Mandatory Minimum Sentencing That Applies Law Equitably, Prevents Lenient Judicial Activism
Washington, D.C. – Black conservative leaders are speaking out against the “First Step Act” criminal justice reform bill because of provisions in the bill that would undermine the benefits of mandatory minimum sentencing. Members of the Project 21 black leadership network, who offer their own set of criminal justice reform recommendations, said the bill as currently written “would be a step back” for public safety and “have an especially harmful effect on minority communities.”
The First Step Act is supported by President Donald Trump. Its changes to mandatory minimums would apply to federal sentencing. It may come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate during the lame duck session.
“As presently drafted, the First Step Act is the first step toward a dramatic reversal in the successful anti-crime strategies that have made America’s cities among the safest in the world,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former professor of constitutional law and former counsel to congressional leadership. “Accountability and detention are time-tested techniques for achieving low crime rates. In the case of the First Step Act, blacks and poor Americans will likely suffer the most when offenders return back to these communities and new offenders learn that they won’t be punished.”
In a new report – “Watch Your Step: First Step Act Could Harm Minority Communities” – Cooper and fellow Project 21 Co-Chairmen Pennsylvania State Constable Council Nedd II and nationally syndicated talk radio host Stacy Washington wrote: “While the legislation is well-intentioned and includes some good provisions, its efforts to undermine mandatory minimum sentencing threaten to reverse the significant progress made in recent decades in reducing crime.”
They noted that mandatory minimums eliminated “overly lenient sentencing that was pervasive from the 1960s through the early 1990s that put dangerous criminals back on the streets prematurely.” Additionally, they “keep offenders off the street longer, and while they aren’t on the street, they can’t commit crime.” This benefits minority communities where prematurely released convicts are likely to return.
“Periodically reviewing mandatory minimum sentences and making revisions to ensure that they are appropriate and reflect societal values may make sense,” suggested Project 21’s leadership. But mandatory minimum sentences “ensure that laws are applied equitably and that judicial discretion isn’t permitted to devolve into judicial activism.”
Cooper added: “How many grandmothers must be assaulted and how many of our kids must face gangs and drug dealers before we remember the important lessons of fighting crime? Real reform would start with ending government’s revenue-enhancing use of jails and fines as a substitute for taxation. But reform that results in higher levels of criminality especially among the most vulnerable is a huge step backwards.”
“Public safety is at risk as long as threats to mandatory minimum sentences remain in the First Step Act,” said Nedd, a law enforcement officer in central Pennsylvania. “Senator Tom Cotton is doing a huge service to his colleagues by citing as one the ‘major problems’ with the bill the problem of early release for those who have committed serious crimes. We don’t want a reversal of falling violent crime rates. Criminal justice reform is long overdue, but there are better ways to protect our communities and rebuild relations between the police and the people.”
Project 21 released criminal justice reform recommendations earlier this year as part of its “Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America.” Among the organization’s recommendations are reforming asset forfeiture rules and getting police out of the business of regulatory enforcement. Additionally, Project 21’s Blueprint recommends that fines and fees should go into general funds to prevent police from focusing on revenue-generating activities and straining relations with the communities they serve. Fines should also fit the crime and not incur harsh penalties that could lead to people losing their driver’s licenses or facing jail time for minor offenses.
To schedule an interview with a member of Project 21 about this issue, contact Judy Kent at (703) 759-0269.
Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.
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