FIRST STEP bitterly divides Senate Republicans

FIRST STEP, the leniency for federal felons legislation being supported by President Trump, may or may not pass the Senate this year. Either way, it has split the Republican caucus. This Washington Post report leaves no doubt about that.

The division is encapsulated in dueling National Review articles — one by Sen. Tom Cotton opposing the jailbreak and the other by Sen. Mike Lee supporting it. In another NRO article, Peter Kirsanow, a conservative member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, combines analysis of recidivism statistics with conservative common sense to show that “Senator Cotton has the better argument.”

Regarding the statistics, Kirsanow writes:

[A] recently-released Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study that tracked the recidivism of state prisoners for 9 years. Although this is a study of state, not federal, prisoners, it remains instructive.

These prisoners came from 30 states that collectively accounted for 77% of the state prisoners released in 2005. The recidivism figures are nothing less than astonishing: by the end of the 9-year period, 83 percent of the released prisoners had been re-arrested. “The 401,299 state prisoners released in 2005 had an estimated 1,994,000 arrests during the 9-year period, an average of 5 arrests per released prisoner. Sixty percent of these arrests occurred during years 4 through 9.”

(Emphasis added)

This means the result of FIRST STEP will be more crime faster. As Kirsanow puts it:

FIRST STEP sentence reductions will come with a cost: an increase in crime—and, accordingly, an increase in the number of victims. Even if the increases are only a fraction of the numbers above, the number of victims will be significant. A disproportionate share likely will come from inner-city neighborhoods.

Kirsanow also notes the hubris underlying FIRST STEP: the notion that bureaucrats, or anyone else, can predict with confidence which offenders will be in the group that desists from crime after release. All we know with confidence is that this is a small group. The recidivism statistics tell us so.

It’s a pity that, instead of spending the last month in which the GOP controls Congress pushing for important measures Republicans agree on, such as building a border wall, members will spend it quarreling over a bill Democrats unanimously support. The Dems must be having a good laugh.

And instead of pushing together for measures that will make America safer, Republicans will split over a measure that can only make America less safe, given the crimes that many of the felons receiving less jail time thanks to FIRST STEP will inevitably commit when they should have been incarcerated.

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