Durbin to BOP Director: Why Is DOJ Undermining The First Step Act?
WASHINGTON—In today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Dr. Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) discussed the Trump Administration’s implementation of the recently-enacted Grassley-Durbin First Step Act. Durbin pressed Dr. Hawk Sawyer on his concerns that DOJ is actively undermining the First Step Act and fighting to oppose retroactive Fair Sentencing Act relief for eligible individuals, and in some cases, is even working to put them back behind bars.
“Last year, Congress came together to pass what I consider to be one of the most important criminal justice reform laws in a generation. The First Step Act passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and [was] signed by President Trump. We now have an obligation to ensure that this law be properly implemented,” Durbin said. “The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which I authored, dramatically reduced the unjust crack/powder disparity – from 100-to-1, down to 18-to-1. But the Department of Justice is resisting retroactive Fair Sentencing Act relief for eligible individuals, and in some cases, is even working to put them back behind bars. I wrote the provision of the First Step Act that reduces these unjust sentences for nonviolent offenders, and the position that the Justice Department is taking is just plain wrong.”
Durbin also recognized an Illinois constituent, Edward Douglas, and his exceptional lawyer, MiAngel Cody, who were in attendance at today’s hearing. Mr. Douglas received a life sentence that was triggered by two minor nonviolent drug convictions. After 16 years in prison, he became one of the first people released under the First Step Act.
Video of Durbin’s remarks in Committee are available here.
Audio of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here for TV Stations.
In today’s hearing, Durbin also pressed Dr. Hawk Sawyer on the DOJ’s risk assessment tool, which DOJ itself forecasts will result in stunning racial disparities in inmate security classification, and the lack of programming in federal prisons.
Durbin was one of the lead authors of the First Step Act, which was enacted into law in 2018 after years of bipartisan efforts. The law uses evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to help inmates successfully return to society after serving their sentences. It also reduces draconian mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
Last week, Durbin met with Dr. Hawk Sawyer last week to discuss the Trump Administration’s implementation of the First Step Act, inadequate BOP staffing, and the overuse of solitary confinement. Durbin also received an update on the activation of the Federal penitentiary in Thomson, Illinois.
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