Cotton on His Crime Reform Bill Amendments: ‘These Are Very Modest Amendments’

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) defended his proposed amendments to the crime reform bill known as the First Step Act on Tuesday. Cotton proposed the amendments along with Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.).

"I think many of the policies in this bill are deeply unwise, to allow early release from prison, thousands of serious repeat and potentially violent felons over the next few months if this bill passes. My amendments won't do much to solve that problem. It won't solve some of the other problems of the bill which slash some of the mandatory minimum sentences in the future on the front end of sentencing," Cotton said. "However, they will fix some of the worst parts of this bill and I would urge all my colleagues to support them and frankly I don't understand why any senator would oppose them."

The Cotton-Kennedy amendments, which are supported by several law enforcement groups, would "exclude nine more classes of criminals from using time credits to transfer out of prison early, including sex offenders who attempt to coerce minors under 18." They would also require authorities to notify victims or their families before criminals are released from prison. Finally, the amendments would require authorities to "track the rearrests of criminals in prerelease custody or supervised release to ensure the program is working."

"Let me just outline the crimes that our amendment would cover and, therefore, prohibit from early release: coercing a child to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity, carjacking, assaulting a law enforcement officer, bank robbery, assisting federal prisoners with jail break, hate crimes, and assault," Cotton continued. "The bill's sponsors have said that this bill would not allow early release from prison for violent felons or serious felons. I consider coercing a minor into sex and prostitution or carjacking or bank robbery pretty serious crimes and usually violent crimes as well. Our amendment would also ensure that there are no violent felons that are released from prison or any other sex offenders."

"I know that some of the sponsors have said this is a poison pill," Cotton said, referencing the amendments. "I frankly don't see why. It is consistent with their own rhetoric. 62% of all felons in federal prison would still be eligible for early release. It does nothing to reduce the leniency on the front end for two-time and three-time drug traffickers. These are pretty modest amendments."

The First Step Act was passed by an 87-12 vote in the Senate on Tuesday evening. All 12 opponents of the bill were Republican, despite President Donald Trump's support for the legislation. One of the key components of the bill is a system whereby convicts can earn credits towards an "early prerelease custody in exchange for participation in recidivism reduction programs."