WASHINGTON DC (December 19, 2019) — Prepared floor remarks by Senator Charles "Chuck" Grassley: The First Step Act: One Year Anniversary of Senate Passage:
I come to the floor today to commemorate and celebrate the one year anniversary of a groundbreaking achievement. On December 18, 2018, the Senate passed the First Step Act. Three days later, President Trump signed this monumental bill into law.
The First Step Act is the most significant criminal-justice reform law in a generation. I’m proud of the work we accomplished a year ago here on the Senate floor by voting it out of this chamber with a roll-call vote of 87-12.
This historic vote means a lot to me. In fact, in one of the conference rooms in my office here in Washington, I have the official tally sheet from this bill’s vote framed and hung on a wall. Now, Iowans, advocates, and those who visit my office can see a piece of history.
Our criminal-justice system is based on the rule of law. That means when you commit a crime, you should be punished. But the punishment should fit the crime. If the penalty is too harsh, it doesn’t do any more to deter criminal activity and it’s a bad value for tax-payers. Overly-harsh penalties can also make it harder for prisoners who are trying to change their lives to turn over a new leaf.
It’s worth noting that almost all criminals are eventually released from prison. So our criminal-justice system must do more than punish and deter. It must rehabilitate and prepare prisoners to reenter society.
And that’s what the First Step Act does.
It gives non-violent prisoners an incentive to participate in programs in prison like job-training, drug-treatment programs, and counseling that have been shown to reduce recidivism.
The First Step Act also makes sentencing more fair. It leaves tough penalties in place for the worst criminals, but it reduces mandatory minimum sentences giving judges the ability to tailor punishments to fit crimes.
Today marks a happy occasion and a time for reflection. However, we must remain focused on the future and implementation of the law. With vigilant and consistent oversight into the implementation of the First Step Act, we can ensure that these goals of reducing recidivism and improving our criminal justice system are met.
I have met with dozens of former prisoners who have been released because of the reforms in the First Step Act and their families. These former prisoners are inspiring. They are finding jobs. They are taking care of their families. They are paying their taxes and contributing to their communities.
They have told me that the First Step Act gave them hope. It reminded them that the rest of the country had not forgotten about them, but wanted them to succeed.
The First Step Act gives former prisoners a better chance at changing their lives. And every day there are more success stories. No doubt there will be some prisoners who return to a life of crime. But the reforms we put into place have been shown at the state level to reduce crime by reducing recidivism. It’s the right thing to do for the people in the criminal justice system. But it’s a good value for the taxpayer too.
As we commemorate the First Step Act, it’s important to acknowledge that this was a bipartisan effort. A lot of people didn’t think it was possible. But we did it by working together and finding a way to work out a reasonable compromise.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge Sen [Dick] Durbin. I guess you could call him my partner-in-crime. There is no better advocate for criminal-justice reform than Sen Durbin and this bill would never have passed without his hard work and willingness to forge this bipartisan compromise.
Also, thanks to my other Senate colleagues who made this possible: Sens [Mike] Lee, [John] Cornyn, [Tim] Scott, [Sheldon] Whitehouse, [Cory] Booker, and [Patrick] Leahy, among many others.
I also want to recognize President Trump and thank him and his team, particularly Jared Kushner, for support and leadership in this space.
Today, December 18, will always be an important day to me. I look forward to making sure this law is implemented successfully and to finding additional ways to improve our criminal justice system.