Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today attended a ceremony
at the White House for the signing of two landmark bills to improve the federal
criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. Whitehouse has worked for
years on the First Step Act and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Reauthorization Act, which both passed Congress in recent days with significant
“Rhode Island’s success improving outcomes for
youth offenders and adults in the criminal justice system inspired features of
each of these new laws,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee. “I’m proud that our years-long bipartisan effort has produced
laws that protect the public safety, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and create
opportunities for offenders to break out of the cycle of incarceration by
becoming productive members of society.”
First Step Act
Whitehouse first introduced a central
component of the First Step Act in 2013 with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to
reduce the rate of re-offense among federal inmates, along with other important
reforms. That legislation was later merged with sentencing reform
legislation to form the core of the First Step Act.
The bill establishes recidivism reduction
programs, based on Whitehouse and Cornyn’s bill, to allow qualifying inmates
under the provisions to receive reductions to their sentences through time
credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming.
Rhode Island implemented similar programs in 2008, which have been followed by
a 17 percent reduction in the state prison population, a six percent drop in
three-year recidivism rates, and a significant drop in crime.
The bill also narrows the scope of mandatory
minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and
violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for
individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger
mandatory minimum sentences under current law.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
The reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention Act was sponsored in the Senate by Whitehouse and
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to secure new protections for youth in the
federal juvenile justice grant program. The legislation takes steps to
reduce the unnecessary incarceration of youth, improves safeguards for minors
who encounter the justice system, and strengthens services that encourage a
smooth transition back into society.
The bill improves the existing law by improving
treatment for juvenile offenders with mental illness and substance abuse
issues, encouraging states to make efforts to reduce racial and ethnic
disparities for youth who enter the juvenile justice system, supporting
alternatives to incarceration, and holding states accountable for failing to
meet core grant requirements to protect the safety of minors in the justice
The original Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention Act was enacted in 1974 to ensure the safety of at-risk youth who enter
the juvenile justice system, and assist states with delinquency prevention
programs and activities. The program had not been updated since 2002 and
was long overdue to be reauthorized.