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Senator Lankford Provides More Details on First Step Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today released a video detailing his work on the recent Senate-passed First Step Act to reform the federal criminal justice system. The video provides Oklahomans an update on some of the positive steps taken in the bill to address our incarcerated population through rehabilitation, recidivism, and prison safety. He also dispels rumors about some the bill’s provisions.

Lankford voted in favor of the bill earlier this week when it passed the Senate in a vote of 87-12. The bill was also approved by the House in a vote of 358 to 36 and now awaits signature by the President.


(Starts at 00:16): The First Step Act takes a look into a place that Americans don’t like to look into, our penitentiaries. We typically have someone committed of a crime, found guilty, and then locked up, and we don’t want to think about it anymore from there, rightfully so.

(Starts at 00:30): We have 180,000 people—around that—in federal penitentiaries right now. We have over 2 million people total incarcerated in America, both in state and federal penitentiaries. Here’s the challenge though: Of that 180,000 people around that in federal penitentiaries, around 40,000 of those folks will be released in the next year. So, they’re coming back into society. So the question is not ‘What’s happening over there?’ It’s, ‘ What’s happening to those 40,000 people when they come back into society, out of the federal prison?…We as Americans should talk about what happens in the prison, because it does affect us when those individuals come out of prison and come back to the street.

(Starts at 2:42): For folks that are low- or minimal-risk individuals [to recidivate], these are not individuals with violent pasts or violent convictions, sexual assaults, all of those. These are folks with low-risk crimes that have been cooperative in prison as well…, they go to different educational programs that we can set up. If they do all of those things to better themselves, they earn time to not be in prison serving their time, but they earn time to serve their time in like a halfway-house or in a community detention program. Still under the supervision of the Bureau of Prisons, but to get out of the main prison, and to be able to go to a less-restricted environment. Now, they still have to serve their full sentence, but they earn time with a little bit of flexibility at the end

(Starts at 3:59): For the last two years, President Trump and his team have worked very hard to be able to engage on this topic, because the President wants this bill to pass, and they’ve worked through different ideas on it as well. Now, it’s passed the Senate 87-12. That is an overwhelming bipartisan vote with groups from all over the country looking at the bill and examining and saying, ‘This is the best way to provide some incentives to have some life turnaround in prison, rather than just warehouse those individuals.’

(Starts at 4:34): It [the First Step Act] includes a lot more than that as well. It also deals with some things like something that should have been fixed ten years ago. That’s the issue of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Congress voted to say that crack and cocaine powder are the same, but they left some folks in prison and never went back to be able to reevaluate that with the crack cocaine convictions.

(Starts at 5;11): This also deals with things like faith-based groups. There’s been a big challenge in the Bureau of Prisons for federal prisons that they don’t allow most faith-based groups to actually come in and actually do recidivism work. Our state penitentiaries do all over the country, and there have been exceptionally successful programs on fighting off recidivism in our state prisons, but the federal penitentiaries block that. Well this stops that. Now, faith-based groups and non-faith-based groups that work on recidivism for prisoners will be treated fairly and be treated the same.

(Starts at 5:41): This also deals with the request from law enforcement. The Bureau of Prison Employees have for years ask for the ability to have lockboxes in the prison where they put their own personal firearms in. They’ll drive to their work under risk there, because obviously they’re recognized as prison employees and not everyone likes prison employees in the community. So they want to be able to conceal-carry on their way to work. But there’s not been a way to be able to store their firearm when they got to work. Well, this corrects that so they can defend themselves on the way to work and on their way home from work as well. It fulfills a request Bureau of Prison employees have out there for a very long time and finally resolves that. 

(Starts at 6:16): This deals with an issue that I have worked on very hard. Not only the religious liberty issue, which was the amendment that I put in to be able to make sure we corrected that and to make sure faith-based groups are treated the same, but also another amendment I put in dealing with what we call the MERCY Act. I worked on this in a bipartisan bill to be able to deal with juveniles that are in solitary confinement too long. We don’t want juveniles in solitary confinement too long, unless they’re a risk to themselves or to others, we need to be able to make sure they’re back with the population or limited population. So that is something we corrected in this bill. We also dealt with things like prisoners that are pregnant, making sure they have greater access to medical care and greater ability to be able to get care while they are there.

(Starts at 7:17): This is not an early release bill, this is not letting people out, this is not the jail-break bill, I’ve heard all kinds of rumors. Why don’t you call us, and we will get the details to you directly (202) 224-5754. That’s our Washington, DC office, or you can go online at lankford.senate.gov and you can get all of our numbers for any of our offices and you can talk to any of our staff about it, or you can go online.

(Starts at 7:47): We want those prisoners that are coming out of prison that are coming anyway to able to have the best opportunity for rehabilitation. The way to do that is to give them job-training, to give them great skills-training, social-training, and quite frankly, one other thing: to connect with their families. Let’s do what we can and just common-sense things, simple things, to be able to deal with those prisoners in our prisons. We as Americans provide great dignity to everybody.