Critics of criminal justice bill make final push for changes
By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) - Critics of a criminal justice bill backed by President Donald Trump are making a final push to amend the legislation in a way that would likely kill its prospects.
The Senate voted 82-12 Monday evening to advance the bill, which gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts.
Now the Senate is turning its attention to three amendments from Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana. One would exclude more prisoners from participating in a program that allows them to earn credits that can be used to gain an earlier release to a halfway house or home confinement to finish out their sentence.
Another amendment would require that victims be notified before a prisoner gets that earlier release. The third would require the Bureau of Prisons to track and report the re-arrest rate for each prisoner who gets that early supervised release.
"These three amendments are modest, conservative and grounded in common sense," Cotton wrote in the National Review.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois called the proposals "poison pills" that would unravel bipartisan support for the bill. He said that authors of the legislation already carved out some 60 different crimes that make prisoners ineligible for early supervised release. He said Cotton's amendment is too expansive and would prevent at least 30,000 prisoners from participation.
Durbin said that the Bureau of Prisons also gives victims the opportunity to be notified upon a prisoner's release, but it's a choice. He said some victims don't want to be notified because of the trauma involved. Meanwhile, Cotton's amendment would make it a requirement.
"Supporting the Cotton amendment is basically saying to these crime victims, 'we're going to force this information on you whether it's in the best interest of your family, whether you want it or not,'" Durbin said. "That is not respectful of crime victims."
An array of liberal and conservative advocacy groups have rallied in support of the bill. They say the changes would make the nation's criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars. The bill would affect only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the country's prison population.
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