Durbin Praises Passage Of The First Step Act

Senate passed First Step Act last night by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 87-12

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today thanked his colleagues for their support of the revised First Step Act, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation which passed the Senate last night by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 87-12.  Last month, Durbin, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the First Step Act, which combines prison reform proposals that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with sentencing reform provisions from the broadly bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which was authored by Durbin and Grassley and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February by a vote of 16-5. 

“I think we showed something last night which most American people wouldn’t have believed – that a bipartisan group of Senators from across the political spectrum could tackle one of the toughest political issues of our day, assemble an array of support – left, right, and center – from members of the Senate as well as organizations devoted to law enforcement as well as civil rights, and at the end of it have something we all felt was a fair product to send over to the House, which I hope will act on this very quickly,” Durbin said.  “It is, however, the first step.  We’ve got to start thinking about the second step.  And we need the help of all of our colleagues when shaping that.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor is available here.

The First Step Act is backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation’s largest police group.  It’s also supported by 172 former federal prosecutors along with sheriffs from 34 states across the country.  The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, praised the bill.  A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also support the First Step Act.

In February, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance comprehensive legislation led by Durbin and Grassley that focuses mandatory minimum prison sentences on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while giving judges more discretion to determine an appropriate sentence for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories.  The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is cosponsored by 43 Republican and Democratic senators, and has earned the support of numerous stakeholders from across the political spectrum, including civil rights, faith, and law enforcement groups.

In 2010, Durbin worked with then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to pass the Fair Sentencing Act, which eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack and dramatically reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. 

Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by over 700 percent, and federal prison spending has climbed nearly 600 percent.  Today, the United States holds more prisoners, by far, than any other country in the world.  Overcrowded federal prisons consume one quarter of the Justice Department’s discretionary budget, which undermines other important priorities, such as preventing crime and treating drug addiction.