Advocates for criminal justice reform hopeful after Trump signs sweeping bill

Trump signs criminal justice overhaul

President Trump signed a sweeping criminal justice overhaul on Friday. The new law, which had rare bipartisan support, shortens some drug sentences while expanding rehabilitation programs for prisoners.

Rosa Concha knows about second chances. She spent six and a half years in federal prison for selling drugs. Now she helps recently released felons transition at the Exodus Transitional Community in New York City, helping launch post-prison lives with job searches and counseling.

"What we do is keep people from going back to prison," Concha said.

The non-profit organization is expected to get a boost in funding from the new law.   

"We cannot continue to characterize people as Americans by the worst moment of their lives," said Julio Medina, who runs the organization.

With the new law, there's a change in how we punish. Thousands of well-behaved inmates will be getting early releases, while others will see their sentences reduced. Drug offenders will get treatment.

"For the longest time, we've thought we should lock as many people up as we can for as long as we can and do nothing with them while they're gone and somehow that would make us safer," said Kevin Ring.

Ring, a former Republican congressional aide-turned-lobbyist, served a year and a half for corruption and wire fraud.

"While I was there, I saw people who had made mistakes, deserved a second chance, but while they were in prison they were getting no rehabilitation, no programming," Ring said.

He now runs a sentencing reform non-profit that pushed for the law. He said the bipartisan support rests on one fact: 113 million Americans have now spent at least one night incarcerated.

"This was a problem that we thought that was confined maybe to some communities, but it's affecting a lot of communities," he said.

The law the president signed covers only federal sentences. Large-scale reform will be a matter of change at the state and local level.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.