WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined the Senate in voting 87-12 to pass the bipartisan First Step Act, an important step in reforming America’s federal prison and sentencing system to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars, and promote safe communities.
The legislation uses evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to help inmates successfully return to society after serving their sentence. It also reduces some sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent offenders while preserving important law enforcement tools to tackle criminal enterprises.
“Based on successful state-level reforms, The FIRST STEP Act is just that – an important first step to reform our often broken criminal justice system and improve public safety in communities across New Mexico and the nation,” Sen. Udall said. “New Mexicans know that our mass incarceration rates not only corrode the bedrock principle that our country was founded on — equal justice for all – but also have not succeeded in tackling the root causes of crime or truly making our communities safer. The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world – and high crime rates.
“Clearly, the current system has fallen short for New Mexico communities, and we must break the cycle of crime, incarceration, and repeat offenses. This legislation offers alternate pathways away from crime by increasing opportunities through workforce training, substance abuse treatment and recidivism reduction programs for those in prison, and creates a more viable path back into society after they have completed their sentences.
“It also takes important steps to repair glaring disparities and inequities in our federal criminal justice system that disproportionately affect communities of color and Native communities across New Mexico, reduce unfair sentencing procedures for nonviolent crimes, expand access to rehabilitative programs for those in prison that will reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses, and ensure public safety and more equal justice for all New Mexicans. I am glad the Senate took this step, but we have much more to do to ensure public safety as we build a justice system that ends mass incarceration and treats everyone fairly and equally under the law.”
“What we have been doing in federal prisons hasn’t been working. This bipartisan bill is supported by law enforcement agencies and civil liberties groups and is a great step forward in building safer communities and improving our criminal justice system,” Sen. Heinrich said. “By passing this legislation, we can redirect resources to crime prevention and drug treatment efforts. I’ll continue fighting to advance policies that ensure the integrity of our justice system and make our communities safer.”
The First Step Act is modeled after state-based reforms that have been proven to cut crime and reduce prison populations while saving taxpayer dollars. The bill has earned support from a broad coalition of law enforcement and civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Fraternal Order of Police, 172 former federal prosecutors, and sheriffs from 34 states across the country.