Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and former Vice President Mike Pence have attacked Donald Trump for signing the First Step Act, the most comprehensive criminal justice reform bill to pass Congress in more than two decades. The bill created programs to prepare inmates to stay out of prison for good after their release. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress and was the major bipartisan victory of Trump’s presidency, writes conservative criminal justice analyst Pat Nolan in The Hill. Inmates who went through the First Step programming and met the legislation's tough conditions were given time off their sentences. Because of the early-release provision, DeSantis called the First Step Act “a jailbreak bill.” Pence joined in this criticism, saying he would “take a step back from” the law if elected president, despite his previous support. No matter how the DeSantis and Pence campaigns spin the issue of crime, the facts are that the First Step Act is helping to decrease the recidivism rate of those released. Without the First Step Act, nearly half of people leaving federal prison will commit another crime after being released.
Conservatives are appalled that more than half of offenders are back in prison within three years of release and that the U.S. spends nearly $100 billion a year to fund a failing system, Nolan writes. That’s why conservatives support fundamental reforms in the justice system. They have championed reforms that focus on reducing recidivism through job training, prison education, addiction treatment, mental health services, and linking inmates with mentors who are solid citizens to guide them as they strive to stay on the straight and narrow. They have funded these reforms by easing up on the length of sentences for those who pose no threat to public safety, while still holding them accountable. Nolan urges DeSantis and Pence not to back away from the movement based on conservative principles. DeSantis and Pence are right to address rising crime, but they miss the target of going after Trump on this issue, Nolan believes. The alarming increase in crime can’t be blamed on Trump or the First Step Act.