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A Chance At Criminal Justice Reform

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that a new criminal justice reform proposal has emerged in the Senate less than a week after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But Mr. Sessions--a devout reactionary on matters of criminal justice--never met a reform effort he didn’t want to smother. As a senator, he fought against comprehensive overhaul like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. As attorney general, he pursued hard-line policies stuck in the 1980s, especially when it came to low-level drug offenses. Reform advocates speak of him with the same level of affection as gun-control advocates do Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s longtime frontman

pouring their hearts” into the compromise and declaring the bipartisan effort “a nice first step.

And now that Mr. Sessions is gone, a bipartisan collection of senators is pushing a plan that addresses some of the core shortcomings of an earlier House version of the legislation that was supported by the White House. The hope is to move the bill during the lame duck session, before the chaos of the new Congress, with its newly Democratic House majority, takes hold in January. For this to happen, lawmakers say that President Trump must embrace the measure and nudge congressional Republicans to do the same. After being lobbied by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and various senators, Mr. Trump did just that at a White House event on Wednesday, praising members of both parties for “pouring their hearts” into the compromise and declaring the bipartisan effort “a nice first step.” In this early test, the president is signaling that he indeed wants to make progress on critical issues that enjoy broad support. Lawmakers from both parties should follow suit.

A crucial feature of the Senate plan, called the First Step Act, is the inclusion of so-called front-end reforms with the goal of a more rational sentencing process. The House version, passed in May, focused solely on “back end” reforms, such as improving prison conditions and easing inmates’ re-entry into society. But tending to the existing prison population without tempering the draconian sentencing laws that caused that population to explode in recent decades is, as Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has put it, “naïve and unproductive.” That’s why reform advocates saw the House bill as worse than nothing, a cheap attempt by Congress to move past the issue without addressing one of its core problems. ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper