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Local impacts of criminal justice reform bill

How the First Step Act could impact our local communities.

Posted: Dec. 20, 2018 2:06 PM
Updated: Dec. 20, 2018 6:41 PM

KIMT News 3 - It's a bill that everyone needs to know about. The First Step Act was passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week with sweeping bipartisan support, 87 to 12. The bill would reform parts of the criminal justice system. It would ease federal sentencing restrictions when it comes to non-violent offenders, give judges more discretion when sentencing drug offenders, it would boost prisoner rehabilitation efforts and would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions to 25 years. While it is gaining widespread support from politicians we're finding out not everyone is in favor.

“Unfortunately none of us know who is going to reoffend,” says Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals.

Sheriff Pals points out federal criminals who may be released early under the First Step Act would be coming back to communities in north Iowa and southern Minnesota. While he hopes they will be rehabilitated and won't reoffend, there is no guarantee. The bill also refers to drug crimes as being non-violent but Pals has an issue with that.

“A lot of people's opinions on drugs now are that they are not violent crimes. Unfortunately, how many lives has that drug user or drug dealer influenced in other people's families?”

The sheriff also says many violent crimes are committed while people are under the influence of drugs and says we need to do a better job of getting people help.

“We need to work together, law enforcement, judicial system, social services, medical; we need to work together to help these people because there are a lot of people falling through the cracks and nobody has the right answer. If we did we wouldn't have this problem in America,” says Pals.

The First Step Act would expand job training and programs in an effort to reduce repeat offenses. The bill now goes to the House for consideration and once it is approved it will go to President Trump's desk to be signed into law.

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