Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today cast his vote in support of bipartisan legislation that would reform the federal criminal justice system.

“While this measure is not a cure-all for the problems that plague our criminal justice system, this is an overdue step to improve a system that still imprisons too many people – particularly people of color – for committing nonviolent crimes. Instead, this bill will allow law enforcement to redirect taxpayer resources toward catching and punishing dangerous and violent criminals,” said Sen. Warner. 

The First Step Act, a bipartisan bill to lower the recidivism rate and reduce sentences for certain nonviolent offenders, tonight passed the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. The compromise legislation has support from a broad range of Democrats and Republicans, including President Trump, and has been endorsed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police (the nation’s largest police group), as well as the National District Attorneys Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Governors Association. 

Some of the changes included the First Step Act include: 

  • Under the bill, offenders who are deemed to be at low risk to commit more crimes will be given incentives to reduce their sentences and access to evidence-based programs (like drug treatment) to better prepare them to return to their neighborhoods and become productive members of the community.
  • The bill also contains a number of sentencing reforms: for instance, it gives federal judges more discretion in sentencing low-level non-violent offenders who cooperate with the government, so that the sentence truly fits the crime. It also reduces some mandatory minimums, and makes sure that only repeat offenders are subjected to the harshest forms of sentencing, as Congress intended.
  • And for a long time, the law disproportionately targeted African Americans by punishing possession of crack cocaine at a much higher level than powder cocaine. Under this bill, those who are serving sentences under those old, outdated federal laws can petition for sentence reductions – if they have a record of good behavior, and meet other qualifications.   

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, which earlier this year passed a similar bill in a broad bipartisan vote.