FIRST STEP’s first deception exposed

When the FIRST STEP act was making its way through Congress, its advocates claimed that only “non-violent” federal prisoners would be released from prison early. By non-violent felons they meant, in essence, drug dealers, as opposed to, say, murderers, rapists, and armed robbers.

I don’t consider dealers of deadly drugs to be non-violent. Their conduct wrecks lives and sometimes ends them.

But let’s accept, for purposes of discussion, the definition of “non-violent” advanced by FIRST STEP’s advocates. Contrary to what they promised, their law is letting violent offenders out of prison early.

Tucker Carlson blew the whistle this week, aided by information provided to him from inside the White House, apparently. He reported that, of the 2,000 or so federal prisoners who have been released early thanks to FIRST STEP, roughly half had committed violent felonies under any fair reckoning.

This includes around 500 inmates who were incarcerated on weapons or explosive charges; around 300 who committed rape or sexual assault; around 100 guilty of armed robbery; and several dozen guilty of aggravated assault or murder.

FIRST STEP’s backers knew this would happen. It follows from the language of the bill. Under that language, the amount of credit for “good behavior” to all federal felons (not just non-violent ones) was increased retroactively. This always meant that felons — both violent and “non-violent” — would get out of jail earlier because they suddenly would have accrued additional credit for good time served.

And it meant they wouldn’t have to do anything by way of “rehabilitation” that they hadn’t already done. They would not have to enroll in any of the programs that the jail break crowd fantasizes will transform them into law abiding citizens.

Sen. Tom Cotton and a few others warned of this consequences. They were ignored. No legislative fix was made to prevent the early release of violent felons, and FIRST STEP’s supporters continued to assert their false claim.

The White House fully backed FIRST STEP as written. Indeed, without Jared Kushner’s support, and ultimately President Trump’s, the law never would have passed.

In a followup segment to his initial report, Carlson had a White House representative on his show to try, somehow, to reconcile the early release of hundreds of violent felons with the promise that this wouldn’t happen. The White House guy argued that the provision that allows the early release of violent felons wasn’t new law, it was a clarification of existing law.

Rarely has Carlson’s patented quizzical look been more deserved.

Call it “clarification” if you want. There is no dispute that these violent felons wouldn’t have been released when they were had the FIRST STEP Act not been passed by Congress and signed by Trump.

Carlson’s point stands. Those among FIRST STEP’s backers who promised that only non-violent felons would be released early weren’t telling us the truth.

This is not the only deception associated with the passage of FIRST STEP. Nor is it the feature of the Act that’s most potentially detrimental to the public. It is, however, emblematic of the supporters’ lack of regard for the truth, and for public safety.

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