The U.S. House of Representatives today easily passed the First Step Act, the bipartisan criminal justice reform effort, 358-36. The bill is now on to the president’s desk; President Trump supports the measure.

Sen. Tom Cotton had fought against the bill in recent weeks with increasingly heated spasms of demagoguery, but the Senate approved the legislation 87-12.


The First Step Act makes modest changes: It would retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act, which ended the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine, to more than 2,000 federal prisoners still serving time on sentences for crack offenses issued before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed in; give judges more discretion to choose not to apply mandatory minimum sentences; reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for people with past nonviolent drug offenses; increase opportunities for rehabilitation, education, and training; encourage small reductions in sentences for good behavior, which would apply retroactively; and push various other efforts to protect the rights of prisoners, such as prohibiting the shackling of pregnant women and placing prisoners in facilities closer to their families.

Cotton said that even this “first step” was a step too far; he believes that the nation has an “under-incarceration problem.” He ditched his party’s leadership to stake his claim as the nation’s leading fear-mongering crank on crime. For more on Cotton’s antics on the issue, don’t miss Jay Barth’s column from earlier this month.


All four members of the Arkansas delegation in the House voted for the measure. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack issued the following statement:

America is the land of promise and opportunity. The First Step Act gives nonviolent, low-risk offenders that very opportunity—the opportunity for a fresh start and the chance to become productive members of society. This bipartisan legislation does so while also ensuring that dangerous and violent prisoners stay behind bars and making our communities safer. I was proud to vote in support of these historic criminal justice reforms.