President Trump poised to endorse US House prison reform bill
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Suresnes American Cemetery as part of the Paris commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, France, November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/Pool

President Donald Trump was poised to endorse a new version of a bipartisan U.S. House bill on Wednesday that would reform the federal prison system to help inmates prepare for life after their release, but the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the Senate.


The original version of the First Step Act, which was co-sponsored by Republican Doug Collins of Georgia and Democrat Hakeem Jeffries of New York, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives in May with a vote of 360-59.

The version of the First Step Act that passed in May directs the federal Bureau of Prisons to do risk assessments on which inmates should qualify and earn credits toward completing their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement.

It also broadens employment opportunities for inmates and expands laws on compassionate release for the terminally ill, among other things.

Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Grassley has been pushing his own criminal justice reform bill now for years that is more comprehensive than the original House version because it would also reduce harsh prison sentences for non-violent offenders.

Earlier this year, Grassley was stunned when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote a scathing letter condemning the legislation as a “grave error” that would reduce prison terms for “a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.”

Sessions’ opposition led to a major feud with Grassley, who accused him of working behind the scenes with the White House to kill his bill even after Grassley had defended Sessions when Trump wanted to fire him for recusing himself from the Russia probe.

The original House bill has also met with some resistance from liberal Democrats in the House including anticipated incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who voted against it because he said it did not go far enough.

Trump forced Sessions to resign last week and replaced him with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

A U.S. House aide familiar with negotiations on the bill said he believes the Senate may still not have the votes to pass it.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chris Sanders and Clive McKeef