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Durbin Delivers Opening Statement During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Fifth Anniversary of the Landmark First Step Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Five Years of the First Step Act: Reimagining Rehabilitation and Protecting Public Safety.”  The law serves as a beacon for “smart on crime” policies, and this hearing will examine its successes and impact.

The First Step Act was championed by Durbin; U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA); U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Key Quotes:

“The First Step Act acknowledges the obvious—the vast majority of people who are incarcerated will someday be released, so we should help them prepare for a successful reentry.  In the last five years, this landmark legislation has reduced the population in our overcrowded federal prisons safely and effectively—reuniting families and revitalizing communities.  In addition to looking toward the future, the First Step Act helps to remedy the effects of the harsh and misguided drug sentencing laws from the 1980s.”

“Since the First Step Act’s passage, I have met so many Americans who have successfully returned home because of this historic legislation.  Some would still be in prison today if Congress had not passed the First Step Act and President Trump had not signed it.”

“The First Step Act has been quite a success.  Of almost 30,000 people released under its reforms through January 2023, only 12.4 percent have been arrested for new crimes.  Compare that to the Bureau of Prisons’ overall recidivism rate more than three times that number—43 percent.  Even with this legislation’s achievements in reducing recidivism, we must remember that this is indeed a first step in a long journey toward rethinking rehabilitation and reversing failed approaches in our criminal justice system.”

“In order to make our system fairer, we must continue to learn from and [build upon] the proven successes of ‘smart on crime’ policies like the First Step Act.  We must provide more opportunities for those who are incarcerated to reenter society successfully, reunite with their families, and contribute to their communities.”

“Five years ago, we wrote the blueprint for reimagining rehabilitation and protecting public safety, and now we know by the numbers that it works.  Today, I am looking forward to reflecting on what we can achieve.”

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law Durbin’s

In December 2018, President Trump signed into law the landmark bipartisan First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act’s reforms retroactive, among other provisions. The First Step Act made a number of additional critical reforms, including:

  1. Requiring the Department of Justice to develop a risk and needs assessment system to assess the recidivism risk of all prisoners, place them in programs and activities to reduce risk, and permit early transition into prerelease custody based on earned time credits;
  2. Reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug trafficking offenses;
  3. Expanding the safety valve to allow judges to sentence low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with minor criminal histories to less than the required mandatory minimums; and
  4. Authorizing incarcerated individuals to file compassionate release motions in federal court.

These reforms have been tremendously successful. Of the 29,944 incarcerated adults released under First Step Act reforms through January 2023, only 12.4 percent have been arrested for new crimes.  By comparison, the overall Bureau of Prisons recidivism rate currently stands at around 43 percent. To date, there have been 3,980 retroactive sentence reductions and 4,639 compassionate release motions granted.