The Senate overwhelmingly passed the First Step prison reform bill 87-12 Tuesday night, and faith leaders have been instrumental in the success of the effort.
The measure addresses issues regarding the nation's drug problem which has led to the imprisonment of many for non-violent crimes without preparing them for their return to society.
The bill ends automatic life sentences for third time drug offenders, requires that prisoners be incarcerated within 500 miles of their homes so they can be near family, and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It will also give more discretion to judges when sentencing some non-violent drug criminals. And it reduces the life sentence for some non-violent criminals who have three convictions to 25 years.
Faith leaders have been meeting with this White House for months about the importance of this measure – people like Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Bishop Harry Jackson to name a few. Groups like Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry that works directly with the incarcerated, also brought their voices to the measure.
As CBN's Faith Nation reported exclusively, 1,000 pastors sent a letter to President Trump calling on him to support it. And faith played a part behind the scenes on Capitol Hill according to Sen. Amy Klobuchar who says the weekly prayer breakfast spurred conversations about criminal justice reform.
Pastor Jentezen Franklin of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church based mainly in Georgia, played an important role in gaining support for the bill from key Washington leaders. Franklin met with President Trump and worked closely with President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to solidify the effort in the Senate.
In an interview with CBN News, Franklin says the bill is "needed in the US right now because our prisons are tremendously overcrowded. Over two million people are in prison now because of the three strike policy established under the Clinton and Bush Administration."
Congregants in his church encouraged him to fight for the bill. Franklin says many individuals from different racial backgrounds wanted him to address the issue when meeting with the president. After doing much research, he recognized the system in place "does not work" because it doesn't offer what the new bill does – a chance for redemption.
"It is really at the heart of this bill... redemption. That is the core of Christianity and that's what we need to offer people. It's for non-violent criminals...a second chance at life," Franklin said.
The potential partnerships with prisons and ministries excites him the most. "We know the only real way to stop reentry and the cycle, and the generational curse that comes on families from people who go into the prison system is to introduce them to Jesus Christ."
The bill also will allow families to be able to see their loved ones in prison which Franklin states is "vital to holding the family together."
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted his support, hailing the Senate vote as a victory. "This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!"
....This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it. In addition to everything else, billions of dollars will be saved. I look forward to signing this into law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
The measure is expected to pass in the House later today.