We Welcome First Step Act; Let's Get To Work on Next Big Steps

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Senator Cory Booker was a key figure in pushing the bill. Photo: wikimedia commons
 
[Commentary]
 
In passing the First Step Act, the Senate took strides toward true comprehensive criminal justice reform, including the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 – the law that reduced the racist powder and crack cocaine sentencing disparity. The retroactive application of this law is something that LDF has sought since the original bill was negotiated and we are gratified that it was finally included in this reform package.
 
While the final legislation still includes some provisions that are deeply troubling, including the use of risk assessments to determine release eligibility for incarcerated individuals, as well as not extending some of the sentencing provisions to those currently incarcerated, we are pleased with those reform provisions that constitute a first step forward to make our criminal justice system truly just.
 
It is vitally important that we recognize that this legislation is true to its name – it is just a first step. There has been bipartisan support for comprehensive criminal justice reform for many years, and a coalition of advocates including LDF and led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has appropriately applied pressure where needed to strengthen this legislation, resulting in a much stronger bill today than was first released.
 
We note however that we have a great deal of work left to do to achieve true criminal justice reform. We look forward to working with Congress to continue to pursue vital reform measures, including policing reform and changes to law enforcement practices that result in mass incarceration, bail reform, measures that strengthen our public defender system, a return to a “Smart on Crime” approach to prosecution by U.S. and district Attorneys, and finally, prison reforms to address the inhumane conditions of incarceration in many of our nation’s prisons. We will continue to work for meaningful and long-lasting transformation in our criminal justice system.
 
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
 
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.
 
 

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