Texas helped mold First Step Act, a new criminal justice reform - FOX34 Lubbock

Texas helped mold First Step Act, a new criminal justice reform bill passed by Senate

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

A new bill passed by the Senate Tuesday, called the First Step Act, is the biggest change to the federal criminal justice system in decades.

With bipartisan support, this bill aims to reduce prison populations by pulling back mandatory minimum sentences.

It also includes programs for well-behaved prisoners to complete, so they can re-enter society earlier and smoother.

David Guinn, a private defense attorney, said the cost-effectiveness of this bill is a breakthrough for criminal justice reform.

"The biggest change the act does is it puts a lot of money, about $250 million, into educational and rehabilitative programs that are proven to reduce people coming back to prison," Guinn said. "It also helps their behavior in prison. It puts a value on people and American principles first, and by the way, it could save all of us a lot of money. Why is that so hard to do?"    

While the state is known as "Texas tough" on crime, Steven Henderson, director of the Lubbock Probation Department, said it is "Texas smart" that has helped mold the First Step Act. 

"Over the last six years, the state has closed down at least half a dozen prisons. Part of it is because fewer probationers are going to prison, and we are letting more and more probationers off early based on things they do for education, treatment, and things like that," Henderson said. "That's some of the principle behind what is in the First Step Act."

The meaning is in the name of the First Step Act, as Henderson said there are several other steps that need to be taken. 

"The problem with both the federal and state level is that once you're convicted with a felony, it's not a three-year sentence, five-year sentence, 10-year sentence, it's a lifetime sentence. Because when you try to go out and get a job, and you have a felony, you're automatically eliminated," Henderson said.

Nonetheless, he said it is good to finally see a criminal justice bill passed with bipartisan support. 

"Good criminal justice reform is not Republican, it's not Democrat, it's not conservative, and it's not liberal. It's what works to change people's lives so they don't face the legal system again," Henderson said.

Many expect the House to vote and pass the First Step Act in the coming days, sending it to President Trump's desk, who intends to sign the measure into law after voicing his support for the bill.

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