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Rep. Doug Collins: ‘Old-school’ legislating helped get criminal justice bill signed
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This screen capture from C-SPAN shows Rep. Doug Collins shaking President Trump's hand during the signing ceremony for the First Step Act at the White House in Washington, DC, on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said it came down to good stewardship of our taxpayer dollars as well as a valuation of people who may need a shot at redemption when looking at criminal justice reform.

Collins sponsored H.R. 5682, a form of the “FIRST STEP Act” focusing on recidivism-reducing programs for federal offenders that would ultimately pass as a combination of legislation. The bill was signed by President Donald Trump Dec. 21.

“People deserve a second chance. If they meet certain criteria, they pay their debt to society, then I think we owe a chance as well to give them a second chance at life, a second chance to rejoin their family and to rejoin society,” he said.

Evidence-based recidivism reduction program was defined as a number of options, including family relationship building and parenting skills, academic classes, mentoring, substance abuse treatment, vocational training, civic engagement and reintegrative community services and trauma counseling.

A prisoner who completes a program could receive time credits of 10 days for every 30 days of successful participation in a program.

“A prisoner determined by the Bureau of Prisons to be at a minimum or low risk for recidivating, who, over (two) consecutive assessments, has not increased their risk of recidivism, shall earn an additional (five) days of time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in evidence-based recidivism reduction programming or productive activities,” according to the legislation.

Prisoners who committed violent crimes, terrorism, certain sexually-based offenses and some drug distribution crimes are ineligible for the time credits.

Collins said the reform was a result of “old-school” legislating, where the House of Representatives worked to create the strongest bill possible while collaborating with the Senate and White House.

“We knew that the Senate was a little bit further ahead on some sentencing reforms and other areas than the House was, so what we did was provide the base bill for prison reform and issues with time credits to get it over to the Senate, where we knew they would be able to add some of the sentencing provisions that we probably didn’t want to start with in the House (of Representatives),” Collins said, as the House prepared for a version to come back from the Senate.

A separate bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was introduced in the Senate in November, which included language about expanded judicial discretion on mandatory minimum sentencing. Another section included a “retroactive application” of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which would allow prisoners sentenced before that act to petition the court for a review in their case because of the “100-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine,” according to a fact sheet by the Judiciary Committee.

Collins said he was “very pleased with the product that came out.”

Collins lauded the work by the state of Georgia and Hall County’s accountability courts. Hall County’s Drug Court began in 2001, and the county’s suite of courts has now expanded to include DUI Court, Family Treatment Court and a Veterans Court.

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