Texas Group Applauds Federal Sentencing Reform Bill

Steven Pickering
November 15, 2018 - 6:41 am
Prison Cell

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DALLAS (1080 KRLD) - President Trump has announced his support for a plan to reform federal sentencing guidelines and boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners.

Advocates for criminal justice reform in Texas are praising the President's move, noting the federal bill has several similarities to reforms enacted in Texas in 2007.

"I'm thrilled to announce my support for this bipartisan bill that will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time," President Trump said, "so important."

The First Step Act would make significant changes to the federal criminal justice system. It would lower the mandatory minimum sentence for some non-violent drug offenders.

Texas was one of the first states in the nation to adopt measures designed to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and prevent ex-convicts from returning to prison by offering intensive supervision and counseling. State lawmakers adopted bi-partisan criminal justice reform in 2007, partly as a way to address the state's growing prison population.

"We had to figure out ways to slow down the number of people coming to prison, or keep them from coming at all," said former State Representative Jerry Madden. "We did some things to work in probation, because that's a far less expensive way to handle people...and it keeps them out of prison."

Madden worked closely with State Senator John Whitmire on the Texas efforts and is now involved with a group called Right On Crime which promotes criminal justice reform.

Many of the federal sentencing guidelines that the First Step Act would revise, he notes, were popular when they were passed in the 1990's. "When you swing a pendulum, sometimes you swing it one way and it swings too far...and you swing it back," he said. "We're trying to find a center point in the middle where it's a proper mix of having the right kind of penalties, but their needs to be some judgement placed on individual cases."

The Texas reforms addressed both the rising prison population and rising costs. Madden says versions of them have been adopted in several other states across the country, and he's glad to see them being considered at the federal level. "A lot of the things that are happening now started in the states, and now the federal government has started picking up those ideas and saying 'they're good ones'. They are...they work," he said. "The states are the incubators of great ideas...and in criminal justice, what we did in Texas in 2007 in particular has worked, and it's worked nationally."

Although the US House and US Senate still need to work out the different versions of their bills, Madden is optimistic that federal sentencing reform will become law.