Scott Statement on Passage of First Step Act

December 20, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) issued the following statement after the House of Representatives passed the First Step Act of 2018:

“Our criminal justice system is long overdue for significant and comprehensive reform.  For far too long, policymakers have chosen to play politics by enacting so-called ‘tough on crime’ slogans and soundbites, such as ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ ‘mandatory minimum sentencing,’ and even rhymes such as, ‘you do the adult crime, you do the adult time.’  These policies may sound appealing, but their impact ranges from a negligible reduction in crime to an actual increase in crime. A better policy has always been to follow evidence and research to reduce crime and save money.

“I voted in favor of the First Step Act when it was first considered in the House in May of this year, despite my concerns with the process.  I commend Representatives Jeffries and Collins for incorporating several provisions that I have advocated for over the last several congresses.  These include fixing the calculation of good time credits, improving the auditing process for enforcing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), prohibiting the shackling of pregnant and post-partum women, expanding the use and transparency of compassionate release for terminally ill prisoners, and requiring the Bureau of Prisons to house prisoners closer to home so they can maintain ties to their family and community.  The bill also makes significant new investments in programs designed to reduce recidivism.

“The bill before us today includes several sentencing reform provisions that were not included in the House bill, but have been proposed in the Sentencing Reform Act and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in this and the last session of Congress.  Some of the sentencing provisions are long overdue.  The bill finally makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, legislation that I authored in the House and that was signed into law by President Obama that finally reduced the crack-power cocaine sentencing disparity from 100-1 to 18-1. The Senate additions also include an overdue reauthorization of the Second Chance Act of 2007, which I proudly helped author with my friend and colleague Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois that was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

“In spite of all of the good work on the bill, the lack of extensive hearings and a meaningful CBO score make it impossible to fully analyze the impact of the bill. For example, the bill appears to create a meaningful reduction in incarceration and recidivism, yet the CBO score shows an overall increase in federal spending over ten years. Previous CBO scores of many crime bills have shown significant federal budget savings, so the CBO score on this bill raises questions about the impact of expansions of mandatory minimums in some parts of the bill. However, I agree with advocates and proponents of the legislation who argue that on balance the bill does more good than harm. But that’s the problem when we rush criminal justice reform legislation to the floor without hearings and a full vetting and impact analysis of each provision. 

“It is clear that this bill will help some, but it is also clear that the bill may actually make our system less just and fair for others.  I decided to vote for this legislation, but I hope that in the new year and with a new Congress we can revisit some of these problematic provisions and actually advance legislation that is based on evidence and research and will address the injustices in our justice system and truly reduce mass incarceration.” 

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