Cummings Statement on Passage of the First Step Act

December 20, 2018
Press Release
Cummings’ MERCY Act Included in Final Bill

Washington, D.C. (December 20, 2018)Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07) issued the following statement on the House passage of the First Step Act: 

“Today, I voted in favor of the First Step Act.  This bill – as its name states – is just the beginning of needed reforms to our federal criminal justice system. The bill takes significant first steps at reducing mass incarceration through modest sentencing reform.  It also provides additional reentry resources to give people a meaningful second chance after incarceration.”

“However, there is still work that needs to be done to tackle the scourge of mass incarceration and to address the many ways the criminal justice system disproportionately harms people of color.”

“As we look toward the new Congress, I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass my legislation – the Fair Chance Act and the REDEEM Act – and other important measures to continue to reform our broken criminal justice system.”

The First Step Act includes Congressman Cummings’ Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act (MERCY Act).  The MERCY Act prohibits the solitary confinement of juveniles who are tried in the federal system and held in pretrial facilities or juvenile detention facilities, barring some extremely exceptional temporary circumstances.

“I am pleased that my bill, The MERCY Act, was included in the final bill.  Compounding incarceration with solitary confinement can break a young person’s spirit beyond repair, and it can have devastating long-term impacts on their mental and physical health.  The MERCY Act takes a strong step toward eliminating this barbaric practice, to ensure our youth have a chance to be rehabilitated and become contributing members of their communities.”

The MERCY Act:

  • Bans Juvenile Solitary Confinement. This legislation bans the use of “room confinement” in juvenile facilities, except as a temporary response to a behavioral issue that poses serious and immediate risk to any individual.
  • Requires Use of Less Restrictive Techniques. The bill ensures that before a juvenile is placed in room confinement, the staff member must use less restrictive techniques, including de-escalation techniques or discussions with a qualified mental health professional.
  • Encourages Transparency. The bill mandates that the juvenile be informed of why the room confinement placement occurred and that release will occur upon regaining self-control or after a certain period of time in solitary confinement.  It also requires that the juvenile’s attorney and parents be notified when certain actions are taken.
  • Places Time Limits on Usage of Confinement. The MERCY Act limits solitary confinement on juveniles that pose a risk of harming others to no more than 3 hours and to juveniles who pose a risk of harm to themselves to no more than half an hour. It requires that juveniles be removed from room confinement once the risk of harm subsides.
  • Sets Minimum Conditions of Confinement. The bill ensures that the room used for room confinement in exceptional circumstances have adequate space, lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and access to water, toilet facilities, and hygiene supplies.
  • Requires Post-Confinement Services. After the maximum period of confinement, the bill mandates that juveniles be transferred to a facility where services can be provided.