Congress approves criminal justice bill backed by Trump

FILE PHOTO: Jail cells are seen in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday gave final approval to bipartisan legislation supported by President Donald Trump that would bring sweeping changes to prison sentencing and the treatment of inmates during incarceration and following their release.

By a vote of 358-36, the House of Representatives passed the bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate on Tuesday. It now goes to Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

The “First Step Act,” years in the making, represents an easing of tough, law-and-order minimal sentencing requirements imposed on judges that stemmed from a 1980s drive to clamp down on an illegal drug epidemic in the United States.

But with about 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, many of them serving long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, conservatives and liberals in Congress worked in an uncharacteristically bipartisan fashion to pass the bill.

“These changes recognize the fundamental unfairness of a system that imposes lengthy imprisonment that is not based on the facts and circumstances of each offender and each case,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said during House debate.

Nadler is poised to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee next month when Democrats take majority control of the chamber.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Susan Heavey, Mohammad Zargham and Jeffrey Benkoe

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