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Senator Lankford Supports Federal Criminal Justice Reform Bill

WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today applauded the passage of the First Step Act by the Senate. The revised bill provides federal inmates programming opportunities to avoid their return to jail upon release; provides enhanced prison security and officer safety; gives non-violent offenders the opportunity to be productive members of society when they finish serving their time; and other reforms. The bill passed the Senate in a vote of 87 to 12.

“Congress has finally heard the call from Oklahomans and Americans to address some important aspects of federal criminal justice reform while remaining tough on crime,” said Lankford. “We still have work to do, but this bill balances the need to keep our communities safe while providing an opportunity for prisoners to earn a second chance. We can and should encourage job training, family connection, and other important development programs for inmates so they can leave crime when they leave prison. This bill creates incentives for inmates to improve themselves, rather than just do time. It also finally provides some reforms that law enforcement and federal prison leadership have requested for years. Ultimately, we will never reduce the rate of criminals re-engaging in crime, if we do not change the way we incarcerate and rehabilitate our criminals.”

The bill includes important human rights provisions like prohibiting the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners (with safety exceptions) and limiting the use of solitary confinement of juveniles. That particular provision is modeled on the bipartisan MERCY Act sponsored by Lankford and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Despite some misinformation being circulated, the First Step Act’s recidivism reduction program does not shorten sentences, even for those with good behavior. In fact, earned time that could be used at the end of a sentence to transition to lower-security facilities is unavailable to inmates who present a medium or high risk to recidivate. The bill also classifies numerous heinous crimes as ineligible from using earned time credits for this purpose. For example, those ineligible include traffickers of fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine. The First Step Act does restore congressional intent regarding “good time” credits, which are current law and allow a prisoner who has displayed exemplary compliance with prison discipline rules and who has also made satisfactory progress toward an educational degree to earn 54 days a year toward reducing his or her sentence.

Lankford offered an amendment, which passed by voice vote, to the First Step Act to allow faith-based groups to provide job training, social and family development to our prison population the same as non-faith-based groups. The amendment ensures that faith-based communities can engage with prison communities but prevents federal funds from being used for overtly “religious” activities.

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