December 19, 2018
First Step Act: A Team Effort Years in the Making
Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Senate Judiciary Committee
Passage of the
First Step Act of 2018
December 19, 2018
President, today is a good day for representative government. A good day for
the taxpayer. And a good day for safe streets and strong families.
night, by a vote of 87-12, the Senate adopted the First Step Act. Today, the
House is expected to send it to the President, who’s waiting with a pen to
enact once-in-a-generation criminal justice reform.
First Step Act will help keep our streets safe and it offers a fresh start to
those who’ve put in the work to get right with the law while paying their debt to
also addresses unfairness in prison sentencing and revises policies that have
led to overcrowded prisons and ballooning taxpayer expenses.
decades ago, Congress passed well-intentioned laws imposing harsh mandatory
sentences to stop the flow of drugs in our communities. I voted for those laws.
But they’ve had some unintended consequences.
prison population has exploded and the taxpayer burden to house inmates has
followed suit. Today, taxpayers pay more than $7 billion a year on our federal
prison population. However, despite that high cost, nearly half of the
inmates released today are re-arrested.
a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the last 38 years, I consider
myself a law and order Republican. I’m also a taxpayer watchdog. And I believe
in the redemptive power of rehabilitation.
in 2015, I began to take a closer look at our prison and sentencing laws. We
needed to make the system work better for the taxpayer, help law enforcement
fight crime, and put a stopper in the revolving prison door.
95 percent of federal inmates will one day return to society. The bipartisan
First Step Act creates recidivism reduction programs to help inmates spend
their time in prison preparing for their eventual return to society.
states across the country have deployed these education, treatment and training
programs. The result has been a significant decline in recidivism.
This means fewer crimes, fewer victims and fewer tax dollars spent housing
First Step Act is carefully crafted to provide opportunities at redemption for
low-risk inmates while ensuring that dangerous and career criminals stay behind
does this through a multi-layer system that filters out dangerous criminals and
those likely to commit new crimes.
bill rewards only those who take personal responsibility for their mistakes—who
put in the time and effort to turn their lives around.
also improves fairness in sentencing while preserving important law enforcement
tools. It reduces some mandatory minimum sentences, but expands their
application to include violent felons.
grants judges additional discretion to sentence low-level, non-violent
offenders to less-lengthy sentences so long as they fully cooperate with law
it eliminates the disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses,
which disproportionately impacts communities of color.
these reforms has been a team effort years in the making. It couldn’t have been
done without the stalwart commitment by a somewhat unlikely cadre of colleagues
and advocates. We’ve had to compromise to make this possible, to seek to understand
the other’s point of view. In doing so, I think we made the bill better. And we
accomplished something of historic significance that will reduce crime, make
our system more just, and improve lives for generations to come.
Durbin and Lee were instrumental in this effort. Their interest in
criminal justice reform dating back to 2014 inspired the Senate to take a fresh
look at our sentencing and prison laws.
Graham, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Cornyn, and
Senator Whitehouse have also been with us since the very beginning of this
Booker and Scott both share a passion for criminal justice reform and have been
vocal advocates shining a light on the shortcomings and societal impact of our
is also due to our House colleagues Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member
Nadler, and Congressmen Collins and Jeffries who introduced the First Step Act
on the House. And thanks to Speaker Ryan for his support and pledge to bring
this to the House floor so quickly.
every step along the way, we’ve stuck together. We pitched this bill to
our colleagues, and made changes based on their suggestions. We also
relied on the input and expertise from a variety of groups from across the
the end, this campaign earned the support of several top law enforcement
organizations and tough on crime champions like President Trump. I think it’s
important to acknowledge the President’s leadership on this issue. When he got
involved, he closed the deal and we got this done. He was helped in that effort
by Jared Kushner.
in President Trump’s administration, I pulled Jared aside to discuss taking up
criminal justice reform. He took the issue and ran with it, and helped find a
way forward to accomplish something previous administrations have tried and
failed to do. Brooke Rollins and Ja’Ron Smith at the White House were
instrumental in this effort too.
also like to thank the Majority Leader for staying true to his word and
bringing this bill to the floor when we demonstrated support for our effort. I
appreciated his support for the bill as well.
thanks are also due to Senate floor staff on both sides of the aisle, who
helped us successfully navigate the bill to final passage.
want to thank my Senate staff who helped make this possible. Bipartisan
compromise is not for the faint of heart, and they’ve stayed true to the
commitment that Senator Durbin and I made to each other to move forward,
step-by-step, in complete agreement about that path we should take.
like to thank my Judiciary Committee Staff Director, Kolan Davis. Kolan’s
steady hand and sound judgment improves everything he’s involved in. I value
his counsel today just as I have for the last 33 years.
my side today is Aaron Cummings, my Chief Constitution Counsel and Crime
Counsel. He led the effort to negotiate this bipartisan deal in my office, and
worked hard to see it through and to organize a vast coalition of support.
also like to thank Brian Simonsen for his diligent work on this important bill.
Our DOJ detailees to the Judiciary Committee Tom Sullivan and Erin Creegan
provided sound technical advice. And my sincere thanks also goes to my talented
communications team Taylor Foy, Judiciary Committee Communications Director,
and George Hartmann, Judiciary Committee Press Secretary, as well as Michael
Zona for their dedication to this effort and their successful campaign to
educate and persuade so many to support this bill.
thankful for my personal office staff led by my chief of staff Jill Kozeny.
Jill has been my trusted advisor for over 30 years. She is leaving my staff,
and I will be sad to see her go. She has been an exceptional leader, solving
problems I didn’t even know I had. And she’s done it all with matchless grace
and what I like to call “Iowa nice.” I’m also grateful to Jennifer Heins, who
keeps me on track and provides sound strategic advice. Their contributions, and
those of every staffer who was part of this effort, have been
also like to thank Senator Durbin’s staff, particularly his chief counsel Joe
Zogby and his counsel Rachel Rossi. Working with my staff, the White House, and
others, they must have closed this deal more than a dozen times. But in the end
their dedication, creativity, and effort got it done.
want to give particular thanks to the law enforcement groups whose support and
input were key to bill’s success, including the Fraternal Order of Police,
International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black
Law Enforcement Executives, the National District Attorneys Association,
Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and Law Enforcement Leaders.
also like to thank the groups that made this effort possible. A diverse and
broad coalition of other groups from the ACLU to the American Conservative
Union supported the bill. I can’t list all the groups who offered key support,
but they included FreedomWorks, Justice Action Network, Americans for Tax
Reform, Heritage Action, the Due Process Institute, Faith & Freedom
Coalition, R Street, Right on Crime, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Prison
Fellowship, and members of an Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition. I will
submit a complete list of support for the record.
this was a combined effort – one on a scale not often seen in Washington these
days. I’m grateful for everyone’s work to bring about these historic
we’ve taken steps to reduce crime and recidivism. To strengthen faith and
fairness in the criminal justice system. And to signal to those willing to make
amends that redemption is within reach. Together we’ve taken an important step
to live up to the commitment we make every time we pledge allegiance to the
flag: to provide liberty and justice for all.