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Letter of Support for S. 2795 The FIRST STEP for Criminal Justice Reform Act

436 14th St, Suite 920
Oakland, CA 94612
(415) 240-2016

November 13, 2018

Hon. Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader

Hon. John Cornyn
House Majority Whip

Hon. Charles Schumer
House Minority Leader

Hon. Richard Durbin
Senate Democratic Whip

Re: Support for S. 2795 The FIRST STEP for Criminal Justice Reform Act

Dear Senators McConnell, Schumer, Cornyn and Durbin:

We urge your support for the FIRST STEP Act, which would expand rehabilitative opportunities for incarcerated individuals, reduce recidivism, and promote public safety. We also strongly support the new sentencing reform provisions, which would expand judicial discretion, reduce some of the most unfair and outdated sentencing laws, and restore fairness to the justice system.

S. 2795 aligns with our goals of smart reforms that promote public safety, restore dignity to incarcerated people, and provide meaningful opportunities for successful transition back to their communities after prison. We believe that our criminal justice system must recognize the humanity of the 2.2 million people currently behind bars, heal victims, reduce crime, and move toward compassion and treatment rather than just punishment and incarceration.

We strongly believe that the provisions of S. 2795 will lead to better outcomes for individuals reintegrating back into their communities - and for society as a whole.

This bill works to improve the lives of the incarcerated men and women, their children, and their families by in the following ways:

Reducing Crime by Incentivizing Rehabilitation
When it comes to our prison system, we need to care about fairness and rehabilitation, not just punishment. The vast majority of people who are incarcerated today will be released back to society someday. It is imperative that our prisons empower them with the tools and support they need so they are able to resolve the underlying issues that led them to commit their offenses in the first place. These policies will make us all safer. The FIRST STEP Act will expand the capacity of prison programming to ensure that individuals inside can benefit from counseling, drug treatment, training and education. By participating in programming, individuals will earn credits (at a rate of 10 days for every 30 of programming) that allow them to shorten the amount of time they spend in prison and instead spend the remaining portions of their sentence in halfways houses, home confinement, or community supervision.

Increasing opportunities for programming and work behind the walls
Currently, there is a significant lack of programming inside the federal prisons. S. 2795 authorizes $50,000,000 each year for FY 2019 through 2023 (quarter of a billion), which can be used for programming. This bill also allows more outside nonprofits, volunteers and faith-based groups to go into federal prisons to provide programming and education. These volunteers will not only provide critical programming, but also will serve as mentors to those inside and be a valuable asset in changing the culture within the institutions and bringing hope and compassion to those inside.

Protecting Women and Facilitating Family Connections
Currently, men and women can be housed thousands of miles away from their loved ones, left with little opportunity to maintain family bonds that are critical to successful reentry. S. 2795 will require that people living in federal prisons be housed within 500 driving miles of their families. Allowing individuals to serve their sentences in facilities closer to their family support system, maintains a healthy bond and strong ties to the community. We also support the FIRST STEP Act provisions that will end the shackling of women in labor and post-partum and provide hygiene items to women in prison at no charge. The bill also contains a fix to Prison Rape Elimination Act, which will improve how the audits of prison sexual assaults are conducted.

Reforming Fair Sentencing
Currently, 49% of people in federal prison are serving sentences for drug-related offenses. For too long, our criminal justice system has been too harsh, on too many people, leaving behind broken families and devastated communities. That is why we adamantly support sentencing reform provisions that are being added to the legislation in the Senate. Sentencing reforms will help ensure that we prioritize our limited correctional resources on the people who truly threaten public safety by allowing judges the discretion to make fair sentencing decisions.

These proposed reforms address some of the harshest, most unfair, and most outdated federal sentencing laws:

841/851 Enhancements: Reducing the mandatory life sentence for some third time drug offenses to 25 years and the 20-year mandatory sentences for some second-time drug offenses to 15 years.

924c Stacking: Reforming the application of Section 924 (c), stopping the mandatory stacking of sentencing enhancements in cases where firearms were possessed but not used in the crime, allowing these charges to be served concurrently instead of consecutively.

Fair Sentencing Act Retroactivity: bringing relief under the Fair Sentencing Act, giving approximately 3,000 people serving outdated sentences for crack cocaine charges a pathway to freedom – this works retroactively for people sentenced before 2010.

Safety Valve Expansion: Broadening the “Criminal Justice History Scores” that can be considered for safety valve relief from mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The safety valve mechanism was created to allow courts to consider sentencing relief for those they believed incorrectly excluded by the Criminal Justice History score system. The new language strengthens the intended purpose of the safety valve by broadening the scope of eligibility, allowing judges to use their own discretion when considering the safety valve during drug sentencing.

We are in the midst of a historic moment in our nation’s long climb toward the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” Elected leaders in Congress, from both political parties, are coming together to make meaningful progress on creating a more effective and fairer criminal justice system. Building on the success of criminal justice reforms in both Red and Blue states that have reduced crime and incarceration. But Congress has failed to pass meaningful criminal justice legislation in nearly a decade, and few improvements have come the federal prison system in more than 20 years. 186,000 people in federal prison and their family members are counting on you. The time is now to bring much-needed change.

We respectfully urge you to schedule a vote and pass the FIRST STEP Act. This legislation will undoubtedly receive strong, bipartisan support on the floor and throughout the country.


Jessica Jackson Sloan
Co-founder of #cut50

Van Jones
Co-founder of #cut50 and Board President of The Dream Corps

Tatyana Ali
Actress and singer

Weldon Angelos
Former Music Producer, Justice Reform Advocate

David Arquette
Actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, and fashion designer

Christina Arquette

Patricia Arquette

Rosanna Arquette
Actress, film director, and film producer

Brendon Ayanbadejo
Former football linebacker

Mutah “Napoleon” Beale
Former member of Tupac Shakur’s recording group

Michael Bearden
Music director, keyboardist, conductor and composer

Aloe Blacc
Musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, businessman

V. Bozeman
Singer, record producer and actress

Eric Bolling
Television Host and Best-Selling Author

Mehcad Brooks
Actor best known for his roles on Supergirl and Desperate Housewives

Scott Budnick
Activist and Producer of the Hangover

Rosa Clemente
American community organizer, independent journalist, and hip-hop activist

Courteney Cox
Actress, producer, and director

Mark Cuban
Owner of the Dallas Mavericks and chairman of AXS TV

Keith David
Actor best known for his roles in Platoon and Something About Mary

Baron Davis
Former NBA All-Star, Currently a studio analyst for the NBA on TNT

Brad Furman
Film and music video director, producer, and writer

Peter Gabriel
Singer-songwriter and record producer

Adrian Grenier
Actor best known for Entourage

Archie Gips
Film Producer, credits include TV series Wahlburgers

Seth Green
Actor best known for his role in the Austin Powers series

Marg Helgenberger
Actor best known for her role on CSI

Chelsea Handler
Actress, writer, television host, and producer

Ryan Hayden
Actor best known for his role on The Final

Kris Jenner
Reality Show Star

Robbie Jones
Actor best known for his role on One Tree Hill

Daniel Dae Kim
Actor best known for his roles on Lost and Hawaii 5-0

Simon Kinberg
Producer best known for his work on the X men film franchise

Khloe Kardashian
Reality Show Star

Marc Levin
Emmy-winning Film Producer

Dawnn Lewis
Actress, singer, voice actress , and songwriter

Louis Lombardi
Actor starring in Natural Born Killers, The Usual Suspects, 24, and The Sopranos

Alyssa Milano
Actress and activist

Piper Perabo
Film and television actress

Luke Perry

Kenneth Polite
Former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Shane Ray
Linebacker, Denver Broncos

Jeff Ross

Frostee Rucker
Defensive End, Oakland Raiders

Alicia Silverstone

Esperanza Spalding
Singer and Jazz bassist

Angela Stanton-King
Best-Selling Author, Speaker, Mentor, Publisher, Reality TV Star

Anthony Scaramucci
Political consultant, Founder and Co-Managing Partner SkyBridge

Delanie Walker
Tight End, Tennessee Titans

Isaiah Washington
Actor best known for his role on Grey’s Anatomy

Benjamin Watson
Tight End, New Orleans Saints

Kanye West

Kim Kardashian West
Entrepreneur, Model and Reality Show

Jaleel White
Best known for his role as Steve Urkel on Family Matters

Steve Wyche
Reporter for NFL Network

Add your Reaction

  • Pamela Denise Long
    commented 2018-11-14 18:24:22 -0800
    Twenty five years in jail for non violent offenses for people/communities that have already been traumatized for generations by our federal, state, local, and industrial systems is a travesty! Federal policy has caused harm and dysfunction in Black communities…and then federal, state, and local policies punish people for showing up in keeping with the supports providing for their degradation. What is being proposed is NOT something to be proud of. Anyone denying the health and community affects arising from intentional over policing, years long sentences, the “war on drugs” (which has been prosecuted in Black communities for four decades), redlining, and routine discrimination and stress, is not listening to the Black people who are telling their story and/or are willful in their ignorance and hate. “Reform” is insufficient. Less injustice (changing sentences from life to two and a half decades) is not justice. The answer must be to stop imprisoning, policing, and racially profiling Black Americans! Just as there is no acceptable amount of rape or DV or gender inequity….there is no acceptable amount of racist policy and slow correction. Do we have a threshold to determine at what point the sexual violence that is occurring “could be worse?” Do we attempt to extoll rape victims to keep hope alive because we’re making progress? Let us not celebrate reform when it continues to rob children and families of their loved ones. When it continues to send Americans to cells and institutions (jails and prisons) that are characterized by abuse, neglect, and inhumanity. When reform does not rise to the need for repair it is insufficient and traumatizing. Only Repair will do. This, as proposed, ain’t it. And it is our responsibility to say so AND hold decision makers to account on providing Repair. Only Repair will do. This is not repair.
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