DECATUR — While touring the Decatur Correctional Center, Congressman Rodney Davis said he was impressed with the support networks, workforce training and other steps in place to make sure the women have a chance to be reformed and productive members of society upon their release.
It’s something Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said he hopes can be done at the federal level as lawmakers consider criminal justice reforms, specifically through the First Step Act.
“It’s something we hope can mirror some of the successes that we have seen within the Illinois Department of Corrections, like the Moms and Babies program,” said Davis, referring to the Decatur Correctional Center program that allows incarcerated mothers to keep their newborn infants with them for a certain amount of time as they serve their sentences.
The House passed the First Step Act in June, with nearly all Republicans and over two-thirds of Democrats supporting the measure. The bill provides vocational training, education support, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, anger-management courses, faith-based initiatives, and other resources proven to lower the chance of recidivism.
It also would provide more opportunities for “good-time credit,” and provide a faster path to release for all federal inmates.
President Donald Trump has thrown his support behind the measure, yet its fate in the Senate is unknown. A report last week from Axios said lawmakers will wait until after the midterm election in November before moving forward.
The bill falls into a peculiar middle-ground, with a mixture of Democrats and Republicans hoping the bill does more, while other conservatives view it as soft on crime.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, have pushed for adding sentencing reform to the bill, which would reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders. That plan has been endorsed by one-third of the Senate.
Davis said he would support such expansion, calling himself a “big proponent” for criminal justice reform, saying petty drug users should be given the treatment and skills necessary to succeed in the community, not locked up for years.
But as the bill’s name suggests, Davis said it is just a first step that can lead to further advancements in how the federal government treats inmates incarcerated for nonviolent, petty drug crimes.
“Let’s make sure we put these good programs in place and begin the progress of criminal justice reform,” Davis said. “It doesn’t answer everything I want, but to just offer to expand it before its moved forward usually means it stops the process.”
Some conservatives have spoken out against such an expansion, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a letter sent to White House officials last month, the U.S. Justice Department said the bill would, "... endanger the safety of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers."
Davis said he respectfully disagreed with those who suggest the plan is soft on crime, reiterating that it is intended for those inmates who have not committed violent crimes. He said it is merely taking what has worked at the state level and moving it to the federal level.
“This is an opportunity for us to already use the given results that we see at facilities like Decatur and move them into the federal system,” Davis said. “Because there are too many examples of young men and women going into the federal system, missing the graduations of their kids, and then going back into the community. And technology, because of their time incarcerated, has left them behind.
“Results matter and they’re getting results here in Decatur, and we should do that at the federal level.”
Davis is currently running for his fourth term in office and faces a challenge from Springfield Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan.