Spotlight Exclusives

Collins, Jefferies honored for bipartisan work on First Step Act

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Lawmakers, community leaders, and others recently gathered to celebrate the bipartisan leadership demonstrated by Reps. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) and Doug Collins (R-GA), who collaborated to pass the FIRST STEP Act. The two representatives were awarded the Jacob K. Javits Prize for Bipartisan Leadership at a ceremony in Washington D.C. last week.

The FIRST STEP Act, co-sponsored by Jefferies and Collins and passed in 2018, aims to improve prison conditions and to allow individuals to earn a reduced sentence from federal prison. It’s been hailed as the most significant reform of the criminal justice system in a generation and has led to the release of more than 3,000 inmates serving harsh sentences for low-level and nonviolent crimes.

The Act aims to:

  • Address the disparity in sentencing for drug-related cases, including limitations against juvenile solitary confinement.
  • Prevent the shackling of pregnant women while incarcerated.
  • Mandate that prisons be within 500 miles from the prisoner’s home, making it easier for families to visit.
  • Reduce second and third strike minimum sentences for repeat offenders.
  • Establish a risk reduction system that better fits the needs of incarcerated individuals.

The legislation was initially opposed by over 100 civil rights organizations, due to the lack of substantive sentencing reform. Eventually, it received widespread political and community support when it adopted four provisions from the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. While 87 percent of U.S. prison inmates are in state facilities, nearly 181,000 are imprisoned in the federal system, thousands of which could be eligible for shorter sentences under the FIRST STEP Act.

Despite pushback from their Democratic and Republican colleagues, Jefferies and Collins pushed forward in hopes of creating comprehensive bipartisan criminal justice reform. The FIRST STEP Act went from sustaining consistent disapproval to receiving support from both sides of the isle, including the ACLU and the conservative Koch network.

At the event, Collins spoke about the importance of bipartisanship. He said that although the two came from incredibly different backgrounds, they decided to push against the “bipartisan wall” to “finding solutions based on what people want and need.” Jefferies said that the biggest lesson learned from the bipartisan effort is that “you can arrive at the same position traveling a long at two different paths on a different journey.”

Named for the late U.S. Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY) – who was well known for forging bipartisan coalitions – the prize serves as a way to recognize lawmakers who are following his legacy.

“The Javits Prize is given to individuals who have taken on an issue of major importance and forged agreement across partisan lines,” said Josh Javits, the son of Senator Javits and a member of the Board of Directors of The Marian B. and Jacob K. Javits Foundation. The Javits Foundation also released a new video – “First Step Forward: A Bipartisan Victory” – highlighting the bipartisan partnership between Representatives Jeffries and Collins on the FIRST STEP Act.

The late U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his decades of bipartisan work in the U.S. Senate.

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