It’s no secret that our politics have become sharply partisan and polarized.
Politicians are driven to stand on principles and appeal to their bases, and bipartisan compromise has become a lost art. Gridlock is likely to become worse over the next two years as Congress is divided between a Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.
That’s what makes the pending First Step Act such a special opportunity.
The criminal justice reform bill has major bipartisan backing. It also has the support of President Donald Trump, who held a roundtable in Gulfport during his trip to Mississippi on Monday with the specific purpose of talking about criminal justice reform in general and the First Step Act in particular. Trump was joined at that roundtable by Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, and Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.
The bill would take meaningful actions to fix a broken criminal justice system. It would reduce recidivism by allocating funding for skill-building, education and vocational training that would help prepare inmates for post-release jobs. It would also hold the Bureau of Prisons accountable to enforce existing rules, such as placing prisoners in facilities within 500 driving miles of their families and prohibiting the shackling of pregnant prisoners.
It allows the bureau to transfer certain low-risk prisoners to lower-security facilities, such as halfway houses or home confinement when circumstances warrant. The bill was actually inspired by effective reforms already passed in Mississippi and a handful of other states.
It passed the House with bipartisan support and has received support from numerous Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Groups backing the bill include a diverse array of interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fraternal Order of Police, some influential evangelical Christians and a tea-party-linked lobby group.
Here is a unique opportunity for a soon-to-be divided Congress to actually come together and get something done for the betterment of the country.
Wicker has strongly supported the bill. Hyde-Smith has been noncommittal.
We urge Hyde-Smith, who pledged 100-percent support of President Trump’s policies during her recent election campaign, to join this effort and help enact common-sense reforms that both make our country safer and provide opportunities for former prisoners to rehabilitate their lives.