Politics

Cory Booker takes the lead on criminal justice reform in 2020 campaign with new bill

Key Points
  • Senator Cory Booker introduced a sweeping criminal justice reform bill on Thursday.
  • The bill, known as the Next Step Act, builds off of the reforms included in last year's landmark First Step Act.
  • Booker is the first 2020 presidential candidate to put forth a detailed plan to amend the country's prison system.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at his 'Conversation with Cory' campaign event at the Nevada Partners Event Center on February 24, 2019 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Senator Cory Booker introduced a sweeping criminal justice reform bill on Thursday, becoming the first 2020 presidential candidate to put forth a detailed plan to amend the country's prison system.

The bill, known as the Next Step Act, includes a collection of bold reforms that largely jump past the incremental progresses of previous bills like 2018's landmark First Step Act, which Booker co-sponsored.

"It's been 75 days since the First Step Act was signed into law, and already, it's changing lives," the New Jersey Democrat said in a statement. "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."

The bill would slash mandatory minimum sentences in half for nonviolent drug offenders, making the longest mandatory sentence 10 years instead of 20 years. The First Step Act reduced the mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders but not for first-time offenders.

The bill would also completely eliminate the discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentences, which was first reduced in 2010 from 100:1 to 18:1 and applied retroactively in the First Step Act. Racial minorities are disproportionately sentenced for crack cocaine offenses: In fiscal year 2017, 94 percent of offenders were black or Hispanic, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Booker also places special attention on formerly incarcerated individuals, including measures in the bill that would make it easier for those with criminal records to find jobs and obtain professional licenses. The bill would also reinstate voting rights to former felons nationwide.

Several of the reforms in the Next Step Act overlap with the marijuana legalization bill Booker introduced just last week. Both bills call for legalizing the drug nationwide, expunging criminal records for those charged with marijuana possession and investing money into communities harmed by drugs.

Criminal justice reform is shaping up to be a major issue during the 2020 presidential campaign. Bipartisan support for the issue is at its highest level in recent years, as evidenced by the passing of the First Step Act with enthusiastic support from President Donald Trump.

"People thought that passing the First Step Act was impossible, but we proved them wrong. We can do that again," Booker said at a press conference announcing the bill.

None of Booker's fellow Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill yet. Two of the declared candidates, senators Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, are former government prosecutors.