Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen Votes for First Step Act

December 20, 2018
Press Release
Criminal Justice Reform Clears Congress

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) voted for the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that passed the House today on a 358 to 36 vote after clearing the Senate late Tuesday night.

When enacted, the First Step Act will shorten sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, give judges more latitude to work around mandatory sentences where appropriate, and allow offenders who were sentenced before Congress reduced the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine in 2010 to petition to have their cases re-evaluated for possible sentence reductions.  It will also enable certain prisoners to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to earn credits to complete the last portion of their sentence in a residential reentry center or home confinement, and encourage the placement of offenders at prisons closer to their homes where possible.  The bill will also prohibit the shackling of pregnant women.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

“The First Step Act just that – a good first step.  It will bring long overdue relief to nonviolent drug offenders who endured unfair, unduly harsh sentences that Congress disavowed in 2010, but failed to make the new law retroactive.   It will also enable nonviolent offenders to earn reductions to their time in prison by taking part in programs that will help them become law-abiding citizens when they reenter society, encourage offenders to be placed in facilities closer to their homes, and stop the barbaric practice of shackling pregnant prisoners.

“More needs to be done to reform our criminal justice system, and I will continue to work to make that happen, but I am grateful Congress has taken this important First Step.”

Congressman Cohen has long pressed for criminal justice reform, including reforms to bad policies with racially disparate impacts like mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders and differential treatment of crack versus powder cocaine.  In 2015, he voted for the Sentencing Reform Act, a bipartisan package of criminal justice reform measures that would have allowed for retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, the 2010 law that reduced the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine. The 2015 bill passed the House, but was not ultimately enacted. 

In May, Congressman Cohen voted for an earlier, House version of the First Step Act when it was considered by the House Judiciary Committee, with a hope, now realized, that the committee’s work would spur the Senate to take action.