President Donald Trump wants to help federal prisoners “who have served their time to get a second chance”. That’s what he said in his speech on the State of the Union of 2018.
Thanks to Trump’s help and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, not to his attorney general. For Kushner, prison reform is personal. In 2005, the father of the real estate magnate was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, witnesses of tampering and illegal donations.
“Like me, Jared understands why he has to do with the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) and his father,” noted Pat Nolan, director of the Justice Conservation Center of the American Conservative Union Foundation and a former GOP state deputy California who served for 29 months. federal prison on a racket conviction at a count.
Nolan was at the forefront of a bipartisan movement to revise the federal criminal justice system spurred by the aversion of the left for large prisons spending and the right wing’s support for a smaller, less invasive government. The conservative side of the initiative is called “Right on Crime”.
He praised Kushner for quickly learning “what is important to do and what we can not do”.
During the second term of President Barack Obama, members of the Congress as Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Worked together on legislation to reduce mandatory federal minimum convictions designed to put aside the oars of drugs for decades but all too often imposed hard time for low-level offenders in drug trafficking.
Obama was ready to sign revolutionary legislation and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Was on board. All Congress had to do was to pass something. But nothing happened while the 2016 elections eclipsed legislation within the Capitol.
Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, encouraged federal prosecutors not to seek the harshest condemnations for non-princes. This was progress.
Then the Trump law and order won the White House in November and chose Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., To be his attorney general. A former federal prosecutor, Sessions canceled the owner’s instructions.
The great change in the federal system seemed dead, and it would have been, had it not been for Kushner. He explained to the review paper: “The administration wants to help long-time prison reformers with their initiative to create a prison system that rehabilitates citizens who have made mistakes, paid the price and deserve a second chance – that in the end reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars “.
In practical terms, Kushner has helped in two ways. First of all, his commitment tells Hill Republicans that Trump does not intend to revoke his support for prison reform.
Kushner also found a way to co-opt Sessions – persuading prisoners’ supporters to delay their push for condemnation in exchange for sessions that did not impede their rehabilitation goals.
Here it is. The Justice Department is now “working closely with the White House to develop legislative reforms that promote the president’s goals for improving prisons and re-enters,” said spokesman Drew Hudson.
Nolan and others with “Right on Crime” see hope in the prison reform and in the Redemption Law, sponsored by representative Doug Collins, R-Ga., Which would require prisons to assess the risk of recidivism of detainees, encourage drug treatment and offer incentives for prisoners to participate in programs to reduce recidivism.
Collins said his bill would create “a federal prison system to assess the risk of each individual detainee for the reiteration of the crime and then to offer evidence-based resources – such as mental health care, professional skills, treatment of abuse of substances and faith based programs – making them less likely to recriminate when they are released. ”
Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Have collaborated with a similar bill that also seeks to help the prisoners return to society.
Offering programs to help inmates turn straight should be a popular idea. “Whatever the point of view of the federal ruling laws – if you think they are too fair, too harsh or too lenient – there should be agreement that it is crucial for the GOP to have programs for the transition of federal prisoners into society,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in a 2017 report.
Many criminal justice reformers do not think that the Collins bill goes far enough. Like Nolan, they want a bill that sets federal minimum standards that too often jeopardize low-level offenders for decades, even life. Even under Trump, they will not be content with just the reform centered on prisoners.
For example, Eric Sterling, who founded the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to correct the excesses in federal drug laws that helped write as an assistant to the Senate in the 1980s, thinks that Kushner and Nolan have set too low a level.
“A traditional Washington approach is to say, always take half a loaf rather than a loaf of bread,” Sterling said. In this case, “conceptually it makes no sense to try to solve problems with prisons when the flow of people entering prison is not addressed”.
Sterling recalled how opponents of the drug war pushed Congress to reduce a disparities in sentencing that disproportionately fell on black criminals. The federal conviction for holding five grams of crack cocaine was five years in prison, the same as possession of 500 grams of cocaine powder, a drug of choice for white inmates. It took years before Congress passed a measure to address the inequality with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, although it limited itself to reducing inequality rather than eliminating it.
“We are now eight years later and it has not yet been resolved,” Sterling said.
But Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation considers the Collins bill to be “a good first step”. He hopes that the reformers will not let the perfect obstacle to good.
In the last decade, Cohen noted, Texas officials have focused on strengthening treatment and reintegration programs for offenders – and it worked. The number of state prisoners has decreased.
Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is leaving his perch in Austin to promote nationwide reforms. And it will work for Kushner.