Judiciary Committee Passes FIRST STEP Act with Rep. Gaetz Amendment

May 9, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 5682, the FIRST STEP Act, comprehensive prison reform legislation that will lower recidivism rates among prisoners through rehabilitation. The bill also included an amendment from U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01). Rep. Gaetz’s amendment implements youth mentorship and dog training programs in at least 20 federal prisons for 5 years. The unamended version of the FIRST STEP Act was limited to ten prisons over two years. In mentorship programs, young inmates are paired with volunteers from faith-based or community organizations, as well as former inmates. In dog training programs, inmates train dogs in various skills, ranging from basic obedience to skills required to be a service or therapy dog.

The legislation, originally sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins (GA-09) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), has support from President Trump, Jared Kushner, and Lara Trump. The FIRST STEP Act successfully passed the House Judiciary Committee earlier today.

Following the passage of his amendment, Rep. Gaetz issued the following statement:

“I am proud that the Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act today, and even more pleased that the bill received such widespread bipartisan support. This bill is makes important improvements to America’s prison system, and it will help keep prisoners from returning to a life of crime upon their release. The most important step in preventing recidivism is teaching prisoners how to become productive members of society. President Trump has shown great interest in the rehabilitation of prisoners, and this bill goes a long way toward achieving his goals. I look forward to the bill passing swiftly through the House and the Senate, and for it to be signed into law by the President — it will be a step forward for America,” Rep. Gaetz said.

Member of the First Family, Lara Trump, the President’s Daughter-in-law, has been a long-time advocate for prison reform and dog programs. In 2017, she hosted a White House roundtable and was instrumental in leading a meeting of political leaders and Cabinet members to advocate for “pets for vets” programs, in which abandoned pets would find homes with veterans. Speaking about the FIRST STEP Act and Rep. Gaetz’s amendment, Trump said:

“I am grateful that the FIRST STEP Act passed; this humane bill improves America’s prison system. The pilot programs authorized by the bill, and strengthened by Mr. Gaetz’s amendment, will improve inmates’ quality of life, and the lives of our four-legged friends. This bill is a step forward for criminal justice reform, and helps animal shelters and abandoned animals nationwide,” said Lara Trump.

Alaqua Animal Refuge seeks to work with local prisons, including the Walton County Correctional Facility in Florida’s First District, to implement these programs. Laurie Hood, founder and president of Alaqua Animal Refuge, spoke about the value of dog training programs in prisons:

“Inmates in these programs form deep emotional bonds with these dogs and the inmates themselves state that their greatest change they have seen is with their own attitudes and emotions. The program helps them deal with anger, teaches them patience and unconditional love. Furthermore, these programs decrease depression, decrease the rate of inmate aggression, and gives a positive morale boost for inmates and staff alike. It is a true “win-win” for the dogs, the inmates and facilities, and the people who will benefit from dogs coming out of these programs. I applaud Congressman Gaetz on his efforts and forward thinking to make this program more readily available to federal prisons,” Laurie Hood said.  

Prison Fellowship, America’s largest provider of Christian outreach services to federal prisoners, issued the following statement after the passage of the FIRST STEP Act and Rep. Gaetz’s amendment:

“Prison Fellowship applauds the strong bipartisan vote from the Judiciary Committee this morning on the FIRST STEP Act, which will help advance public safety and bring hope to the over 180,000 men and women currently incarcerated in federal prison. We congratulate Representative Gaetz on his successful amendment to expand mentorship and dog training programs in federal prisons. As the nation’s largest Christian outreach to prisoners, we know first-hand how much impact positive programming and mentorship can make in preventing and breaking the cycle of crime,” said Prison Fellowship.