Publisher’s Note: Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) announced the signing of two bills he worked on for many years: The First Step Act and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act. Below is the December 21, 2018 statement from Senator Whitehouse’s office about these bills:
New laws help inmates successfully transition back to society, encourage states to adopt new protections for youth offenders
Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today attended a ceremony at the White House for the signing of two landmark bills to improve the federal criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. Whitehouse has worked for years on the First Step Act and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act, which both passed Congress in recent days with significant bipartisan support.
“Rhode Island’s success improving outcomes for youth offenders and adults in the criminal justice system inspired features of each of these new laws,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m proud that our years-long bipartisan effort has produced laws that protect the public safety, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and create opportunities for offenders to break out of the cycle of incarceration by becoming productive members of society.”
First Step Act
Whitehouse first introduced a central component of the First Step Act in 2013 with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to reduce the rate of re-offense among federal inmates, along with other important reforms. That legislation was later merged with sentencing reform legislation to form the core of the First Step Act.
The bill establishes recidivism reduction programs, based on Whitehouse and Cornyn’s bill, to allow qualifying inmates under the provisions to receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming. Rhode Island implemented similar programs in 2008, which have been followed by a 17 percent reduction in the state prison population, a six percent drop in three-year recidivism rates, and a significant drop in crime.
The bill also narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act
The reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was sponsored in the Senate by Whitehouse and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to secure new protections for youth in the federal juvenile justice grant program. The legislation takes steps to reduce the unnecessary incarceration of youth, improves safeguards for minors who encounter the justice system, and strengthens services that encourage a smooth transition back into society.
The bill improves the existing law by improving treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse issues, encouraging states to make efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities for youth who enter the juvenile justice system, supporting alternatives to incarceration, and holding states accountable for failing to meet core grant requirements to protect the safety of minors in the justice system.
The original Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was enacted in 1974 to ensure the safety of at-risk youth who enter the juvenile justice system, and assist states with delinquency prevention programs and activities. The program had not been updated since 2002 and was long overdue to be reauthorized.