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Conservatives send letter to President Trump in support of First Step Act and modest sentencing reforms

| October 18, 2018

Download the letter here.

Dear Mr. President,

As conservatives who have been actively involved in important criminal justice reform policies for many years, we applaud you for your leadership on getting momentum for prison reform legislation. As you know, the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act, H.R. 5682, passed the U.S. House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support on May 22 but is still awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. We believe the bill, with very modest sentencing reforms added, would easily pass the U.S. Senate if it is brought to the floor for a vote.

As you know, the FIRST STEP Act is modeled after the successful reforms in states like Georgia and Texas and the bill seeks to bring evidence-based recidivism reduction programming to the Bureau of Prisons. We, as conservatives, strongly support the FIRST STEP Act. This bill, should it become law, will enhance public safety, making our communities safer.

Opponents of the FIRST STEP Act have claimed that you should oppose the bill because it somehow puts you at odds with law enforcement. Quite to the contrary, the FIRST STEP Act has notable support from law enforcement. In May, more than 100 former law enforcement officials,[1] including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and many former federal judges and prosecutors signed a letter in support of the FIRST STEP Act. Although some law enforcement groups have publicly opposed the bill, we believe that these groups have been given misinformation by opponents[2] of the FIRST STEP Act.

Another argument that opponents have used is the opioid crisis. Mr. President, we are also concerned about this epidemic, and our concern about this epidemic is one of many reasons we support the FIRST STEP Act. Addiction is a serious issue, which is why you declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency. Nearly every American knows someone who has struggled with a form of addiction. Indeed, many of us who have signed this very letter have family and/or friends who have become addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Although there is an important role for law enforcement in addressing the crisis, addiction is primarily a health issue, and it should be treated as such. Some of the recidivism reduction programs that could be implemented in federal prisons through the FIRST STEP Act may focus on treatment for addiction. Incentives such as earned time credits will encourage offenders to successfully complete these programs and put their lives on a better, healthier, law-abiding path.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley supports four modest sentencing reforms that have been discussed as possible additions to the bill from the House.  The reforms have been openly debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee, not some backroom deal. The legislation had the strong support of conservatives such as Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

Poll after poll shows widespread support for prison reform and sentencing reform from Republicans, Democrats, and independents. This is unequivocally clear, and it is especially notable that in such a hyper-partisan atmosphere, prison reform and sentencing reform garners bipartisan support.

Earlier this year, a poll of 800 registered voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies[3] found that 76 percent believe the criminal justice system is in need of significant improvements. Eighty-five percent agreed that the prisons should do a better job ensuring that prisoners are less likely to commit another crime. Another 72 percent responded that the goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate those who have served time so that they become productive, taxpaying members of society. Finally, eighty-seven percent supported significant reforms to mandatory minimum sentences.

At the state level, a survey of 500 registered voters in Kentucky conducted in August by Public Opinion Strategies found widespread support for components of the FIRST STEP Act.[4] Sentencing reform measures that may be added to the bill earn the support of between 68 percent and 82 percent of Kentucky voters. Seventy-five percent of Republicans support the legislation when they were told that you, Mr. President, support it, and 70 percent of voters want Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the floor.

Finally, we will note that crime went down in 2017. Violent crime, which peaked in 1991, is below the 2012 level and is lower than the rate in 1971. Burglaries are at record lows, and property crime is on a downward trajectory. Preliminary analysis of crime in 2018 shows that crime is expected to go down once again.

Under the leadership of Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia has arguably done more to reform its criminal justice system than any other state, enacting prison reform, sentencing reform, and second chance initiatives. According to recent crime data, Georgia’s violent crime rate is actually lower than it was before Governor Deal made these reforms a signature part of his legislative agenda in 2011.

Mr. President, we are conservatives who strongly support the FIRST STEP Act because we believe it is vital to enhancing public safety and opportunity for offenders who want to turn their lives around. We encourage you to ask Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring this bill to the floor for an up or down vote.

 

Sincerely,

 

Newt Gingrich

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

Mike Huckabee

Former Governor of Arkansas

Jim DeMint

Former United States Senator

Ken Blackwell

Former Secretary of State (Ohio)

Brent Bozell

Media Research Center

Adam Brandon

FreedomWorks

Dominic Calabro

Florida TaxWatch

Deborah J. Daniels

Partner, Krieg DeVault LLP

Doug Deason

Deason Foundation

Craig DeRoche

Prison Fellowship

Donald Devine

The Fund for American Studies

Robert Ehrlich

Former Governor of Maryland

Luis Fortuno

Former Governor of Puerto Rico

Rebecca Hagelin

Council for National Policy

Bernie Kerik

Former New York Police Commissioner

Eli Lehrer

R Street Institute

Jerry Madden

Former Chairman, Texas House Committee on Corrections

Pat Nolan

American Conservative Union Foundation

Ralph Reed

Faith & Freedom Coalition

David Safavian

American Conservative Union

Richard Viguerie

American Target Advertising

J.C. Watts

Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Robert Woodson

Woodson Center/National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

[1] Letter from former law enforcement officials, “Re: H.R. 5682, the FIRST STEP Act,” May 15, 2018 https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Former-Fed-Prosecutor-Letter-FIRST-STEP-Act-May15.2018.pdf

[2] Heather Caygle and Elena Schor, “Cotton jolts prison reform negotiations,” Politico, May 18, 2018 https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/18/tom-cotton-prison-reform-negotiations-598031

[3] Justice Action Network, “NEW POLL: Voter Support Sky High for Bipartisan Justice Reforms, Especially Among Women Voters, January 2018 http://www.justiceactionnetwork.org/new-poll-voter-support-sky-high-bipartisan-justice-reforms-especially-among-women-voters/

[4] Phillip M. Bailey, “Rand Paul was talking prison reform when Jared Kushner jumped on the call,” Louisville Courier Journal August 30, 2018 https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2018/08/30/kentucky-polling-prison-reform-catches-jared-kushners-attention/1142761002/

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RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.

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