Senator Cotton Pushes Back On Sentencing Reform Bill With Fake News

By Keri Blakinger 12/03/18

The sentencing reform bill (FIRST STEP Act) would lower mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes and eliminate the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity retroactively.

Senator Tom Cotton thinks the sentencing reform bill is too lenient.
Photo via YouTube

Despite broad bipartisan support for what could be a landmark shift in federal drug laws, the FIRST STEP Act still has one very predictable, very vocal detractor: long-time drug warrior Sen. Tom Cotton. 

Even as Democrats, Republicans, the president and the American Civil Liberties Union all come together behind the 103-page bill, the Arkansas Republican has been penning op-eds and tweeting hot takes. 

“If the bill is passed, thousands of federal offenders, including violent felons and sex offenders, will be released earlier than they would be under current law,” he wrote in the National Review. That’s not entirely true. 

In fact, the bill would lower mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes, eliminate the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity retroactively, increase reentry funding, require that federal prisons hold inmates closer to home, and mandate the provision of free tampons and sanitary napkins for female prisoners. It would also ban the shackling of pregnant inmates and eliminate the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.

Some progressives think the measure doesn’t go far enough and, as the Marshall Project noted, some of the provisions include things the federal prison system is already supposed to be doing.

But when it comes to early release – despite Cotton’s implications - the bill doesn’t include a few dozen serious crimes, such as terrorism and violent gun offenses. It also excludes “those that are organizers, leaders, managers, supervisors in the fentanyl and heroin drug trade,” according to the Washington Post.

Also, even for those who are able to earn time credit, the chance to get out sooner still lies in the hands of the Bureau of Prisons and its risk-assessment tools.  

“At all times the Bureau of Prisons retains all authority over who does and does not qualify for early release,” tweeted Republican Sen. Mike Lee, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Nothing in the First Step Act gives inmates early release.” 

The Utah senator laid into his Arkansas colleague, calling Cotton’s tweets on the subject “100% Fake News.”

The Washington Post apparently concurred, offering a detailed look at the senator’s claims regarding the proposed legislation – and ultimately giving him a two-Pinocchio lie rating

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.