US Senators Have Finally Reached a Deal to Overhaul the Criminal Justice System

The bill would start to roll back the harsh federal sentencing laws that have helped fill America's prisons.

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Oct 1 2015, 6:00am

Watch Fixing the System, VICE's special report in which we accompanied Barack Obama to a federal prison

Check out America Incarcerated, VICE's comprehensive look at the system that keeps two million people behind bars

After nearly two years of negotiations, and amid a rising public outcry overAmerica's sky-high incarceration rates, a bipartisan group of Senators has finally agreed on a plan to dramatically reform the criminal justice system. The bill, which has the backing of some of the country's most powerful lawmakers, is expected to be unveiled at a news conference Thursday, and will address issues like sentencing laws, corrections reform, and juvenile justice.

Specifically, the legislation is expected to overhaul federal sentencing policy, rolling back the harsh punishments that have overwhelmed US prisons with a flood of non-violent drug offenders. The bill is expected to provide judges with more discretion in sentencing these offenders, and also to end the federal "three-strikes rule" that locks up third-time offenders for life. According to MSNBC's Ari Melber, the proposal will also expand rehabilitation and reentry programs for select federal inmates, and restrict the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. But lawmakers have also warned that the bill falls short of the more ambitious changes sought by activists.

In recent months, pressure has mounted for Washington to deal with the country's prison crisis, and the economic, social, and moral effects that have arisen as a result. Politicians and advocacy groups on both the left and the right—ranging from the ACLU and Bernie Sanders to FreedomWorks and the Koch Brothers—have called on Congress to pass some kind of reform, aimed at reining in ballooning prison costs and incarceration rates.

So far, the White House has not responded the Senate proposal. But senior administration officials have been bugging members of Congress to cut a deal for weeks, viewing criminal justice reform as a critical component of the president's legacy. In July, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, sitting down with inmates at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma. His visit is featured in VICE's new documentary special Fixing the System, which aired on HBO this past weekend.

Five In-Depth Stories About the Criminal Justice System

1. How Drug Trafficking Laws Put Regular People in Prison for Life
2. A Former Inmate Talks About How Prisons Manufacture Criminals
3. Dead or in Jail: The Burden of Being a Black Man in America
4. What Can America Learn from German's Prison System?
5. Why Is Getting a Job After Prison Such a Nightmare for Ex-Cons?

Thumbnail image via Flickr user miss_millions

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