More Law Enforcement Leaders Criticize FIRST STEP

Groups thought to support bill issue letter opposing it

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November 16, 2018

Several major law enforcement groups, thought to have backed down on their opposition to a federal criminal justice reform proposal, issued a letter to Senate leaders Thursday outlining why they were still troubled by the bill.

The groups' opposition may endanger the future of the bill — President Donald Trump, who has publicly supported the FIRST STEP Act, has "privately said he wants more law enforcement groups on board," Politico’s Seung Min Kim noted on Twitter.

In their letter, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Major County Sheriffs of America outlined a series of proposed changes that they feel will help prevent the creation of a "high-risk path for dangerous criminals with gun crime histories to early release from prison."

News reports about Trump's endorsement of the bill claimed that both the MCCA and the MCSA had withdrawn their opposition to the bill, "writing in a letter to Kushner dated Tuesday that they 'endorse the objectives of the First Step Act' and the legislation 'strengthens how federal prisoners may be integrated into the community and set on a path to live positive and productive lives.'" Had this been true, it would have been a major coup for bill supporters, as the two groups had come out firmly against FIRST STEP just weeks ago.

Instead, however, the three groups aligned themselves with four other major law enforcement organizations—including the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and the National Association of Police Organizations—as deeply skeptical of the bill. That leaves the Fraternal Order of Police as the only major group to have endorsed the proposal.

The NSA, MCCA, and MCSA listed five major changes in their letter that they would need to see in the bill to be willing to give their support. All five pertain to the terms of the bill that would reduce sentences or release federal offenders early—this would be accomplished through an expanded system of credits for participation in recidivism reduction programs, the retroactive application of same, and an enlarged "safety valve" for judges to decline to impose mandatory minimums in certain contexts.

Under the current terms of the bill, the letter's authors argue, certain offenders could be let out by these provisions who ought not to be. These include those who have committed violent gun crimes, fentanyl traffickers, violent sex offender,; and single-time child pornography offenders.

"In its current form, we oppose this legislation. However, if these changes can be made to address our concerns, we stand ready to work further with the Senate and the Administration," the letter concludes.

Published under: Crime , Prison Reform