Hoeven Helps Pass Bipartisan Legislation to Reform Federal Criminal Justice System, Reauthorize Second Chance Act

Senator Pushed to Include Changes to Better Ensure Public Safety, Prevent Release of High Risk Offenders

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today helped pass the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation that reforms the federal criminal justice system and reauthorizes the Second Chance Act. The Second Chance Act provides support to state and local governments in reducing prison costs and improving public safety by preventing repeat offenses and violent crime. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven has worked to support programs under this legislation, which have benefitted criminal justice and rehabilitation efforts in North Dakota.

Hoeven supported the legislation after a previous version was modified to address many of the concerns from the National Sheriffs’ Association, including preventing supervised release for certain offenders such as those who are at a high risk for recidivism, committed violent or sexual crimes or were convicted of trafficking fentanyl. 

“We advanced this legislation to better focus our criminal justice system on rehabilitation and preventing repeat offenses and to help address the costs of the growing federal prison population,” said Hoeven. “We appreciate Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley for working with the nation’s law enforcement stakeholders to ensure the bill accomplishes these goals without risking public safety. Further, we welcome the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which has provided important tools to North Dakota in helping previous offenders become productive members of their communities as they are released from the justice system.”

The First Step Act creates a risk and needs assessment system under the Federal Bureau of Prisons, wherein minimum and low risk offenders can earn time credits toward supervised release for participating in recidivism reduction programs and other activities, including mental health treatment, education and job training. Priority is given to prisoners who are within two years of release, and the bill provides for reassessment of those within five years of release to determine appropriate programming for reducing recidivism.

The legislation also reforms federal guidelines for mandatory minimum sentences and provides judges with tools to reduce sentences for those with little to no criminal history. Specifically, the bill limits qualifying prior convictions, as they apply to mandatory minimums, to serious drug felonies that occurred within 15 years and, at the same time, expands qualified convictions to include serious violent felonies. 

Due to these reforms, not only does the bill focus on sentence reduction for those with just minor offenses, such as misdemeanors or nonviolent drug possession, it also empowers prosecutors to target high-risk, repeat offenders by including violent felonies as a qualifying prior conviction for sentence enhancements. This gives prosecutors an additional tool to protect the public from violent offenders.

The legislation is supported by President Trump, the American Correctional Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National District Attorney’s Association, National Governors Association and the International Union of Police Associations.