Trump now supports the reform of the federal prison

The US Senate passed the largest law enforcement reform in the United States in decades. The chamber voted 87 to twelve on Wednesday night for the law, which aims to improve prison conditions and reduce the number of detainees. The vote is a rare example of bipartisanism in Washington, which is otherwise so divided. The approval of the House of Representatives is very likely. President Donald Trump also supports the reform. For him, the passage would be an important legislative victory on an issue that interests citizens outside of his core electorate.

The reform only applies to detainees in US federal custody. That's about 181,000 people right now - about ten percent of all prisoners in the United States. The remainder are held in local or state detention centers. The conditions there differ greatly from state to state. Proponents of the reform hope that it will set standards that will later be followed by states that have not yet met them.

On the one hand, the reform is intended to improve the living conditions of prisoners. The law stipulates that federal prisons must in future distribute hygiene items such as sanitary towels to female prisoners. Pregnant prisoners may no longer be handcuffed to the bed during childbirth. Solitary confinement for young people is also largely prohibited.

Second, the law seeks to reduce the number of inmates. Prisoners should be given the opportunity to shorten their term through good behavior and either to be released earlier or to a kind of house arrest. Thousands of prisoners could benefit directly from this. Opponents of the law criticized that dangerous criminals would be released. However, violent criminals are excluded, as are certain drug criminals.

A third drug conviction no longer automatically translates into life imprisonment

The most important part of the reform, however, concerns the future: America's prisons should not fill up as quickly as before. The law softens the currently valid, very strict regulations for minimum sentences. These were decided by Congress primarily to fight drug-related crime and are a major reason why prisons in the US are overcrowded with long-term inmates who have not committed capital crimes. However, when convicting the minimum sentences, the judges often had no choice but to send the accused to prison for decades. In practice, these draconian punishments often hit African American men - with all of the negative consequences for the families and the communities from which they came.

That should change now. For example, it removes the requirement that a defendant automatically sentenced to life imprisonment if he is convicted for a third time for a drug offense, even if no violence was involved. In future, the sentence in these cases will be 25 years in prison - still extremely harsh by European standards, but from an American point of view a sign of leniency. In addition, it should no longer be possible to "stack" sentences on top of one another; prison sentences that are imposed at the same time will in future be served simultaneously, not one after the other.

The prison reform, which was largely worked out by Trump's son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, is a turning point, especially for the Republicans. For decades you had been the party that focused on harshness in the penal system and thus drove the Democrats in front of you in election campaigns. Now suddenly they are talking about the fact that criminals deserve a second chance too.