Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform

Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform
© Getty

President TrumpDonald John TrumpReporters defend CNN's Acosta after White House says he 'disrespected' Trump with question Security costs of Trump visit to Scotland sparks outrage among Scottish citizens Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerMexico's president presses Pompeo on reuniting migrant families Hillicon Valley: Mueller indicts Russians for DNC hack | US officially lifts ZTE ban | AT&T CEO downplays merger challenge | Microsoft asks for rules on facial recognition technology | Dems want probe into smart TVs Kushner to join Pompeo for meetings with Mexican leaders MORE, his son-in-law and senior adviser, met with criminal justice reform advocates Thursday, giving new hope that action to reverse the nation's burgeoning incarceration rates is still possible.

A White House official told The Hill the meeting was focused on prison reform and re-entry, as well as the successes states such as Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky have had in enacting programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates and rehabilitating inmates.

Trump said during the meeting that his administration is committed to helping former inmates become productive, law abiding members of society.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Two-thirds of the 650,000 people released from prison each year are arrested again within three years,” Trump said. “We can help break this vicious cycle through job training, very important, job training, mentoring and drug addiction treatment. … We’ll be very tough on crime, but we will provide a ladder of opportunity for the future.”

The White House official also said prison reform was discussed at the presidential retreat at Camp David this weekend and the Trump administration over the past six months has been hosting roundtable discussions and listening sessions on prison reform and the re-entry of released individuals to society.

“These meetings have included federal and state officials, faith leaders, grass-roots leaders and prison reform experts,” the official said in an email.

Invited guests Thursday included Matt Schlapp, board chairman of the American Conservative Union; Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R); Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R); and Koch Industries’s lead attorney, Mark Holden.

Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, was also expected to be there, along with former bank robber Shon Hopwood, who is now an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Board of Directors.

Thursday's discussion also included Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsConservatives moving to impeach Rosenstein soon: report Senators urge DOJ to probe whether Russians posed as Islamic extremist hackers to harass US military families The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ MORE and Trump’s chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.

Rollins, who spoke to The Hill on Thursday afternoon, said attendees in the meeting spent a good amount of time talking about state success stories.

“In Texas we’ve changed a lot of laws and closed eight prisons,” she said. “And the crime rate is down 31 percent over the last 10 years at a time when our population has exploded.”

Rollins said she thinks the administration is looking at what has worked at the state level and what options they have to reduce recidivism rates be it through executive or legislative action.

Citing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a White House official said there were 1.5 million individuals, including immigrants in the country illegally, incarcerated nationwide as of 2015. The official said 68 percent of state offenders — the majority of those incarcerated in the United States — are rearrested within three years while 77 percent are rearrested within five years.

The meeting emboldened some advocates who saw it as a sign the White House is officially on board with criminal justice reform.

“It has long been an excuse used on the Hill that we need to see where the White House is on this issue and this is the positive signal the folks on the Hill have been waiting on," said Holly Harris, executive director of Justice Action Network.

"I don’t think there’s going to be any more justifications to hold up this legislation," she said.

Thursday's meeting wasn't Kushner's first on the issue.

The president's son-in-law met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyKavanaugh paper chase heats up Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (R-Iowa), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE GOP senator moves to restart Pentagon report on NATO allies' spending MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinKavanaugh paper chase heats up Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-Ill.) in March about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act — legislation to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain drug offenses and armed career criminals — that stalled in the previous Congress.

But a source familiar with the talks confirmed the White House does not view sentencing reform as part of prison reform or a way forward.

Kushner held a roundtable discussion with members of Congress, including Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWho is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act Trump nominee vows to restore 'trust' in IRS MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsImmigration overhaul on life support in the House Time to set politics aside to move ahead on criminal justice reform Don’t kick the can down the road on prison reform — now is the time for change MORE (R-Ga.) in September to gather recommendations for improving mentoring and job training in federal prisons, according to a Washington Post report.

Cornyn and Sheldon introduced the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (Corrections) Act in October.

The bill requires the Bureau of Prisons to expand programs that reduce recidivism rates and allows eligible inmates who successfully complete the programs to earn credit toward time in prerelease custody.

But lawmakers and advocates say a similar bill Collins introduced in the House in July is likely to move first.

The Prison Reform and Redemption Act aims to incentivize prisoners to participate in recidivism-reduction programs by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement.

“I think it’s very positive,” Collins said of Trump’s meeting. “I think it signals we’ve got to start this process rolling and do something we can all find agreement on.”

But not everyone is convinced the meeting is a solid sign of White House support.

“It’s not clear to me it will signal anything as long as he’s got Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States, who's consistently pushing regressive, dated, failed, so-called law-and-order policies,” Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesMembers of Congress weigh in on the great 4th of July debate: Hot dogs or hamburgers Dem generation gap widens Crowley stunner sets off new scramble among House Dems MORE (D-N.Y.) told The Hill on Thursday morning.

“It does appear based on public reports that Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser to the president, may be authentically interested in criminal justice reform, but as with anything in terms of this White House it’s not clear what that necessarily means in the context of some of the strident positions that President Trump himself has taken, particularly on the campaign trail," Jeffries said.

During the campaign, Trump called himself the “law and order” candidate and blamed former President Obama for the rise in violence in major cities.

Thursday’s meeting comes a week after Sessions rescinded the Obama-era policy that relaxed enforcement of federal marijuana laws, opening the door for federal prosecutors to begin charging users and businesses in states where the drug is legal.

Jeffries, who has teamed up with Collins on his prison reform bill, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFormer FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans 5 takeaways from wild hearing with controversial FBI agent GOP lawmaker asks FBI agent about lying to wife over affair MORE (R-Va.) has expressed interest in moving the legislation forward, but a markup of the bill has not yet been scheduled.

But he said if Congress is ever going to do something meaningful to reduce mass incarceration, sentencing reform has to happen alongside prison reform.

“What is clear is that Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, people on the left and on the right generally agree that criminal justice reform is a good thing for this country and mass incarceration is something that should be addressed,” he said.

“We have a coalition of unusual suspects that have come together in this country to deal with criminal justice reform and if in fact the White House is on board, we’ll be able to get something done,” Jeffries said.

-Updated 3:58 p.m.