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Telling someone to “read the bill” is an odd admonition — it suggests that the requester knows about something nefarious hiding in the text that has yet to reveal itself. But in Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s case, he uses that admonition in a recent column to cherry-pick a few lines from the First Step Act in order to take them out of context or completely misrepresent them. His zeal to destroy this criminal justice reform bill — one created by conservatives, negotiated by conservatives, and supported by conservatives — is unmatched. His motivation, however, is not clear, because if we followed Cotton’s suggestion and rejected this bill, America will be no safer.
So let’s read the bill, as it’s actually written.
Terms - Cotton - Release - Means - Jailbreak
First, it is important to define the terms as they are, not as Cotton alludes to them. Not once does he ever define what “early release” means. One could misunderstand that to mean the much-feared and fear-mongered “jailbreak.” In the bill, this is something very different.
If you read the bill, you would be hard-pressed to find “time credits” defined, though Cotton insists on using that term. That’s because it is a system of “earned time.”
Prisoners - Programming - Risk - Needs - Assessment
Prisoners who complete recidivism-reducing programming based on a comprehensive risk and needs assessment, can build up “earned time” towards prerelease custody, but only if the prisoner can maintain a low- or minimum-risk level. This does not end his sentence and release him, unsupervised, back into society. In no way can this be construed as “early release” by any definition of the words.
Depending on the offender and his risk and needs, prerelease custody may take the form of a halfway house, home confinement, or supervised release, all three of which involve varying but significant supervision from law enforcement. These options already exist in the federal system and are...
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