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Donald Trump Is Doing Something … Good?

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This year is ending with one truly surprising development, a real man-bites-dog story: Donald Trump is poised to sign bipartisan legislation that will make America a slightly more decent place. I’m talking about the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill championed by Jared Kushner. The measure passed the Senate, 87 to 12, on Tuesday and the House on Thursday, and Trump is expected to sign it soon. According to Inimai Chettiar, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, it will be the largest federal effort to reduce prison populations ever enacted.

In some ways that’s not saying much; experts expect the initial impact to be quite modest. Most incarcerated Americans are in state prisons, and the First Step Act affects only those in federal custody. “Its direct overall impact is going to be pretty slight — I think even its proponents admit that,” said John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham and the author of “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.”

But even if that’s true in percentage terms, for many people, the new law will be a great blessing. Among other things, it retroactively applies a law that reduced the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine, which could make around 2,600 prisoners eligible for immediate release. It also allows inmates to earn more time off for good behavior, gives judges more discretion on draconian mandatory minimum sentences, and requires that inmates be incarcerated closer to their families.

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© The New York Times