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A Prison-Reform Bill Passed the House 360–59. It’ll Probably Die in the Senate

June 6, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

Imagine legislation that was drafted with the help of
presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and, unsurprisingly,
supported by President Trump himself. Imagine that this same bill
is supported by such stalwarts of “The Resistance” as
the Urban League and the Equal Justice Initiative, and also backed
by prominent conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the Faith
and Freedom Coalition. The Koch brothers and Grover Norquist are
advocates, and so is liberal commentator Vann Jones. In fact,
imagine a bill so bipartisan that it passed even this deeply
divided House on a 360-59 vote.

That legislation would be the “FIRST STEP Act,” a
prison-reform bill. And, this being Washington in 2018, it is
almost certainly not going to become law. Indeed, it looks doubtful
that the Senate will even vote on it.

The FIRST STEP Act is hardly radical. It doesn’t reduce
inmate sentences or otherwise deal with the intensely punitive
approach to justice that has given the United States the
world’s largest per capita prison population. Nor does it
remedy the ongoing racial issues that continue to infect our
criminal-justice system.

Instead, it would make a number of extremely modest humanitarian
reforms to the way we treat prisoners. For example, it would make
female health products more available in federal prisons and all
but end the practice of shackling female inmates during childbirth.
It would try to keep inmate families together by expanding visits,
phone privileges teleconferencing, and opportunities to transfer to
prisons closer to home. It would increase mental-health and
substance-abuse treatment for inmates.

One has to wonder if
congressional dysfunction has reached a breaking point.

It would also provide a modest $250 million over five years for
new inmate-education and -rehabilitation programs, and establish
incentives (including time credits) for prisoners to participate.
Prisons would also be required to conduct “risk
assessments” of soon-to-be-released inmates and to tailor
programs to meet these inmates’ needs.

Over the long run, most experts believe the legislation would
save money. For example, studies have shown that every dollar spent
providing needed mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to
inmates ultimately saves taxpayers $1.27 to $5.47 in reduced crime
and incarceration costs. One should always be skeptical of claims
that government spending will save money, but this initiative
clearly passes the common-sense test. Similarly, keeping families
together is likely to reduce future welfare costs as well as crime.
And since nearly all prisoners will eventually be released,
programs to reduce recidivism are also likely to prove
cost-effective.

So why is such a modest and humane bill almost certain to
die?

In part, the FIRST STEP Act is a victim of the infighting and
turf protection that helps explain Congress’s 18 percent
favorability …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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