Law Makers Sponsor Bill to Give Federal Prisoners “Second Look” at Sentences

Senator and presidential hopeful Cory Booker will introduce the “Second Look Act” to Senate this week to give federal prisoners with certain conditions the opportunity to petition a judge.

What We Know:

  • The “Second Look Act” would allow federal prisoners who have served at least ten years of their sentence to petition a judge for a reduced sentence or release. It would also award inmates over the age of 50 “rebuttable presumption of release,” meaning the government would have to provide a reason for inmates over 50 to remain in prison.
  • The bill would also mandate the United States Sentencing Commission to release public reports evaluating the effects, particularly the racial impact, of the “Second Look Act,” and establish additional factors for courts to consider when evaluating a prisoner’s readiness for release.
  • The bill is meant to expand upon the progress made with the “First Step Act,” signed into law in 2018, which worked to help inmates get shortened sentences for good behavior and job training; This bill was motivated by research that shows the size of the penalty does not prevent recidivism more than improved prison conditions would.
  • Booker references two anecdotes when discussing the bill, William Underwood and Matthew Charles. Underwood is currently a 65-year-old prisoner in New Jersey who has served over 30 years in jail for a nonviolent drug crime – a sentence Booker believes Underwood would not have received nowadays due to changes in federal sentencing. Charles was the first person to be released from custody under the “First Step Act,” providing a symbol of progress for the bill and its expansion on this earlier legislation.
  • Representative Karen Bass will introduce the legislation to the White House this week as well. “Unjustifiably long prison sentences aren’t just immoral, but also a waste of valuable federal resources,” Bass said.

Nearly all Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have chosen some area of prison reform to run on, whether by adjusting funding or focusing on disproportionately affected communities.