The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed on Thursday a sweeping overhaul of the federal prison system, a measure that sailed through the U.S. Senate earlier in the week by a similarly large consensus.
The “First Step Act,” long-championed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, passed the House with a 358-36 vote. Most Texas members of the U.S. House supported the legislation. It will head to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign the bill into law.
The legislation is the singular bipartisan movement of the politically toxic first two years of Trump’s first term. Conservatives and liberals came together to support it. Mandatory prison sentences, dating back to the sky-high crime rates of the 1980s and 1990s, began to lose favor in conservative circles due to the sheer cost of housing inmates. Liberals, meanwhile, soured on the disproportionate minority prison populations.
“We can be smart and tough on crime at the same time,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, in a statement after passage.
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A number of legislators and advocates pointed to Texas’ efforts under then-Gov. Rick Perry as a federal blueprint to re-evaluate prison policy.
The law will require the U.S. Department of Justice to move low-risk inmates to less expensive and less restrictive confines, allow inmates to reduce their sentences if they participate in programs designed to reduce their risk of reoffending, limit the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners, work on reducing prison rape, improve prison guard training and enhance prisoner preparation for re-entry into society.
This legislation only applies to federal prisons. White House senior advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was a key advocate of the bill. Kushner‘s father served time in federal prison, and his son was a frequent visitor of his at an Alabama correctional facility.
The legislation’s critics charge that the law could lead to the release of dangerous criminals.
The bipartisan success comes amid chaos on another front at the Capitol. Trump signaled to House leaders on Thursday that he would not support a temporary funding bill that did not include $5 billion in border wall funding. The Senate passed a funding bill on Wednesday night, and most political observers assumed the sister legislation would pass the House and earn Trump’s signature.
But on Thursday morning, Trump threw his support into doubt.