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Booker, Watson Coleman Introduce Far-Reaching Criminal Justice Legislation: The Next Step Act

Bill would make serious, substantial reforms to sentencing guidelines, prison conditions, law enforcement training, re-entry efforts Most comprehensive criminal justice bill to be introduced in Congress in decades

March 8, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) today introduced a sweeping criminal justice bill - the Next Step Act - that would make serious and substantial reforms to sentencing guidelines, prison conditions, law enforcement training, and re-entry efforts.

The Next Step Act is the most comprehensive criminal justice bill to be introduced in Congress in decades.

"It's been 75 days since the First Step Act was signed into law, and already, it's changing lives," Booker said. "But the First Step Act is just as its name suggests - it is one step on the long road toward fixing our broken criminal justice system. There's more that remains to be done so that our justice system truly embodies those words etched onto our nation's highest court â?“ 'equal justice under law.' That's exactly what the Next Step Act does. It builds off the gains of the First Step Act and pushes for bolder, more comprehensive reforms, like eliminating the sentencing disparities that still exist between crack and powder cocaine, assisting those coming out of prison with getting proper work authorization and ID documents, reducing the barriers formerly incarcerated individuals face when they try to find jobs, and ending the federal prohibition on marijuana."

"When I voted for the First Step Act, I made it clear that my support was contingent on there being a 'next step,' Watson Coleman said. "The Next Step Act fulfills that promise and builds upon the foundation we laid last year. It moves us toward comprehensive reform that addresses the consequences of the War on Drugs, helps provide pathways for people coming out of the criminal justice system, and provides for better training for law enforcement. I'm proud to work with my colleague Senator Booker on the work of passing the most comprehensive criminal justice bill in a decades, and I hope this bill garners the same kind of bipartisan support as its predecessor."

"We applaud Senator Booker and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman's steadfast commitment to reforming the justice system," Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said. "Congress must address the unjust racial and structural inequities that exist throughout the system. We welcome the introduction of the Next Step Act and look forward to reviewing the legislation with our coalition."

Specifically, the Next Step Act would:

  • Reduce harsh mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses: the 20-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 10 years, the 10-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 5 years, and the 5-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 2 years.

  • Eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences (currently it is 18:1)

  • End the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.

  • "Ban the Box" by prohibiting federal employers and contractors from asking a job applicant about their criminal history until the final stages of the interview process, so that formerly incarcerated individuals get a fairer, more objective shot at finding meaningful employment.

  • Removing barriers for people with criminal convictions to receiving an occupational license for jobs, such as hair dressers and taxi drivers.

  • Reinstate the right to vote in federal elections for formerly incarcerated individuals (blacks are more than four times as likely than whites to have their voting rights revoked because of a criminal conviction).

  • Create a federal pathway to sealing the records of nonviolent drug offenses for adults and automatically sealing (and in some cases expunging) juvenile records.

  • Ensure that anyone released from federal prison receives meaningful assistance in obtaining a photo-ID, birth certificate, social security card, or work authorization documents.

  • Improve the ability of those behind bars to stay in touch with loved ones, by banning the practice of charging exorbitant rates for phone calls (upwards of $400-$500 per month) and ensuring authorities take into consideration where someone's kids are located when placing them in a federal facility, a circumstance that acutely impacts women since there are far fewer womenâ??s prisons than menâ??s prison.

  • Provide better training for law enforcement officers in implicit racial bias, de-escalation, and use-of-force.

  • Ban racial and religious profiling.

  • Improve the reporting of police use-of-force incidents (currently the Department of Justice is required to report use-of-force statistics to Congress, but states and local law enforcement agencies are not required to pass that information on to federal authorities, creating a significant gap in data that could be used to improve policies and training).

The Next Step Act is an effort to build upon the momentum of the First Step Act, which was signed into law late last year and which represents the biggest overhaul to the criminal justice system in a decade. Booker was a key architect of the bill - he was instrumental in adding key sentencing provisions to the package after publicly opposing the House-passed version of the First Step Act first released in May 2018. Booker also successfully fought to include provisions that effectively eliminated the solitary confinement of juveniles under federal supervision and banned the shackling of pregnant women.

The Next Step Act is based upon a number of individual bills Booker has authored, co-authored, or co-sponsored since arriving to the Senate in 2013, including the Marijuana Justice Act, the Fair Chance Act, the REDEEM Act, the Ending Racial Profiling Act, the Smarter Sentencing Act, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, the Democracy Restoration Act, and the Police Reporting Information Data and Evidence Act.