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Trump Backs First Step Act, Bipartisan Bill on Criminal Justice Reform

Trump Backs First Step Act, Bipartisan Bill on Criminal Justice Reform
Dr. Wilmer Leon is joined by attorney Glen Ivey, former state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and former assistant US attorney in Washington, DC.

Today, President Donald Trump endorsed the First Step Act, placing the burden on Congress to pass the landmark criminal justice reform bill. This has been languishing in Congress in some form or fashion for a few years. The House version, passed in May with a "back end" focus on those who have been incarcerated, via such methods as improving prison conditions and easing inmates' re-entry into society. A crucial feature of the current Senate plan, called the First Step Act, is the inclusion of so-called "front-end" reforms with the goal of a more rational sentencing process. Is it a coincidence that a new criminal justice reform proposal has emerged in the Senate less than a week after the departure of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions? On the sentencing side of the equation, the proposed reforms in the First Step Act apply the law as it was intended, refocus lengthy sentences on serious offenders, allow judges to exercise some discretion in sentencing offenders with limited and lower level criminal history and offer relief to thousands of inmates at no cost to public safety. Although they are the lowest hanging fruit of sentencing changes included in bills that have been discussed for years, including the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, these reforms effectively tackle some of the most egregious and obvious wrongs of our sentencing laws. In contrast to the 2015 proposal, the elimination of the "stacking" provision and the reduction of mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders would not apply retroactively — a concession by Democrats that greatly narrows the impact of the changes for the current prison population. If Mr. Trump supports the package, senators will still be up against a rapidly closing legislative window — Congress is set to break in mid-December — and certain opposition from conservative Republicans in both the Senate and the House. What does this mean for substantive criminal justice reform?

The fate of the Georgia race for governor remained uncertain today as Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp clashed bitterly over pending lawsuits that seek to count more ballots that were rejected by local officials. What went on in GA during this election? People wonder about the significance of the Section 5 preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Would we be having this problem if Section 5 were still enforced? The requirement prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the US Attorney General or the US District Court for DC that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities. A lot of people are looking at the results of the midterm elections and looking at the increased diversity that is on its way to Congress: more than 40 women, including two Muslim women, Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, daughter of Palestinian immigrants; and Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's nominee, Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American

Is time running out for Julian Assange? In a recent MintPress article, journalist Ann Garrison writes, "… in ten years' time, WikiLeaks has published more classified information than all other media combined. It exposed human rights abuses, government spying, torture and war crimes on an unprecedented scale. Assange has been an asylee in Ecuador's London Embassy for more than six years-since August 2012. With that being understood, why do you believe now that WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange will wind up in the clutches of the US government?" What is it that the FBI and CIA want to know? They want to know about security files for example. They want to know about the inner processes and workings of Wikileaks. They want access to the knowledge that's inside Julian's brain. And they will torture him. And they will interrogate him in order to attempt to get that knowledge.


Glen Ivey — Twice elected state's attorney in Prince George's County, Maryland, and former assistant US attorney in Washington, DC. His private practice focuses on white collar criminal defense, congressional and grand jury investigations, civil litigation, regulatory matters, crisis management counseling and internal corporate investigations.

Dr. Clarence Lusane — Poll watcher in Georgia during this election. He is, in fact, an internationally recognized election observer, author of numerous books, two of which are The Black History of The White House and Hitler's Black Victims, and the Chair of the Political Science Department at Howard University.

Ann Garrison — Journalist and contributor to a number of outlets such as SF Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, MintPress and Counterpunch.

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