The First Step Act, the legislation President Trump recently signed into law, is being heralded as a historic, long-awaited victory in the fight for criminal justice reform.
It’s a comprehensive package of reforms, and there will be more reforms in the future, considering every score of years or thereabout federal lawmakers push some comprehensive package to sway activists and lobbyists. Law and order, voting rights and education are frequent visitors.
Recall George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, whose lengthy accountability list opened the door for the status quo to take into account everything, including the schools’ slop sinks. Yet, no one was held accountable. Oh well.
Will the First Step Act — directed, produced and written by a bipartisan Congress and pin-up Kim Kardashian West — follow in similar footsteps?
Understand me, now. I ain’t judging Kim K’s motives to nudge the Donald and get an aging drug felon released from prison. After all, he had prepped us by pardoning heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, who was imprisoned for cavorting with white women in 1921. Miscegenation was a big no-no back then, and perpetrators were hanged high.
Something seems amiss, though, with the first step in criminal justice reform. It’s annoying because the endeavor seems to have no end goal.
Lessening mandatory-minimum sentencing? Fine.
Giving judges more discretion? OK.
Making some requirements retroactive to allow for early release? No problem.
Well, for one thing more inmates will be released into the community, and it has not been made clear whether the federal government and the people in those communities are prepared for the influx.
I mean, look at the southern border. Federal, state and local authorities knew beforehand that thousands were headed our way. Congress knew, too, yet they expect us to grin and bear it.
For another also on the legal side of the equation, everybody who practices law, including people like Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, need to bone up on the very laws they approve. Again, what is the end goal?
The No. 1 purpose of a criminal justice system is law and order. That is, catch the bad guys and bring them to justice. Protect society. Rehab the bad actors.
America is pretty darn good when it comes to catching bad guys. After that, the cracks for them to fall into seem to grow wider after they are released. We’ve coined a term for them: repeat offenders.
What’s being done to discourage repeat offenders? Costlier government spending? Cottage-industry growth for organizations that give themselves names like Brighter Beginnings?
The lawsuits that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education had public school desegregation as an end goal.
The civil rights movement had ending racial discrimination at its heart.
What follows the First Step Act? The Second Step Act? Prison reform? Halfway house reform?
Oh, and on that category there’s much chatter about how governments can aid returning citizens. How returning citizens can aid themselves, however, not so much.
They may need to be re-educated before returning to the workforce. Public schools aren’t doing a great job as it is. So here they go again.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a law-and-order guy, and that type of guy doesn’t look puppy-eyed when another guy, including one who may be in the White House, tells him to have a heart and let those people go. And I ain’t mad at Mr. Sessions.
We should be concerned, however, that floodgates are opening and no one in leadership — not Mr. Trump, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi — has grabbed a microphone, stood before the cameras and explained what the next step is and what the endgame is.
Heck, with a different issue and a different Congress, it’s merely déjà vu all over again.
⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.