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BURNSVILLE, MN – Recently, MinnPost and the Star Tribune published articles on the FIRST STEP Act and highlighted Americans for Prosperity as a key stakeholder in helping build the broad policy coalition to get the bill passed. Below are excerpts from the pieces.
Star Tribune: Congress can end nasty year with a win with criminal justice bill
The First Step Act represents a thoughtful approach to criminal justice that applies tough standards where needed, but which recognizes that the current system is badly flawed. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes, you’re out” and other practices have resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than 2 million people are behind bars at any given time. The cost to taxpayers is staggering — an estimated $80 billion just on corrections systems.
The proposed act would give judges more latitude on mandatory minimums; provide funding for rehabilitative, educational and training services; and create strong incentives to prisoners to take advantage of them by offering “time credits” that could reduce sentences for inmates committed to changing their ways. Pregnant inmates could not be shackled while they gave birth, and prisoners would be located within 500 miles of their families. It would reduce the sentencing guideline disparities between crack and powder cocaine.
And yet, serious roadblocks remain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been lukewarm about the bill’s chances, saying it was up to members to pull together the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. Some conservatives, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., remain staunchly opposed.
That is frustrating even frequent conservative allies, such as Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, who also support First Step. Jason Flohrs, director of the Minnesota chapter, told an editorial writer that “this is a once-in-a-generation bill. We’ve got the statistics to prove that what we’re proposing works. We’ve built great bipartisan support. We can’t let it fall victim now to the usual partisan games. We all know the system we have now is not working.”
MinnPost: What you need to know about the criminal justice reform bill that might, just might, pass Congress
It’s rare that President Donald Trump, both of Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. senators, Rep. Jason Lewis, and a constellation of political groups, from the Koch brothers’ right-wing advocacy network to the American Civil Liberties Union, give their stamp of approval to legislation addressing a controversial topic.
The bill in question: the so-called First Step Act, which aims to begin overhauling the criminal justice system by making sentencing fairer for those who have committed nonviolent offenses, and implementing reforms to reduce criminal recidivism and tackle the country’s overincarceration problem.
Jason Flohrs, executive director for the Minnesota chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy organization backed by the Koch brothers network that has been a key voice from the right on the issue, said that the First Step Act is a rare chance to get something important done in a lame-duck session.
“You’ve got a couple of loud voices in the Senate stuck on this idea of, we can only be tough on crime as opposed to being smart on crime,” Flohrs told MinnPost. “If this kind of legislation falls victim to those partisan, end-of-session type games that go on, that’s really a disservice.”