Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform

Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Watergate prosecutor: Trump taking the fifth would be political suicide Comey: I’m ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ by Republican party Comey, Anderson Cooper clash over whether memo release violated FBI rules MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHenry Kissinger, Tim Cook among guests at White House state dinner Overnight Tech: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower meets House Dems | SEC fines Yahoo M over email breach | Senators unveil internet privacy bill Kushner’s father on skyscraper: ‘I pushed Jared to do the deal’ 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.

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“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 SessionsSessions defends Trump’s power to pardon without consulting Justice Dept GOP senator: 'We were there' on immigration before talks got derailed Sessions defends census citizenship question as 'common sense' 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 GrassleyGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Democrats fret over GOP changes to Mueller bill Let Robert Mueller do his job MORE (R-Iowa), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump’s VA pick make it through the week? Mike Lee pens op-ed calling legislation to protect Mueller 'unconstitutional' MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Senators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe Democrats fret over GOP changes to Mueller bill 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 CornynGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees Republicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw Senators to Trump: Let Mueller finish Russia probe MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseEPA security chief worked for tabloid owner linked to Trump: report Overnight Energy: Pruitt proposes rule targeting 'secret science' | Dems probe Pruitt's security chief | FAA bill provisions could strip endangered species protections Dems say Pruitt security chief’s authorization for side job is invalid MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHouse unanimously passes Music Modernization Act Overnight Tech: Apple's Tim Cook meets Trump at White House | Zuckerberg sticking with Facebook's ad model | Kanye West wants sitdown with Apple, Google execs | House Judiciary delays markup of prison reform bill 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 JeffriesHouse Judiciary delays markup of prison reform bill Music bill backed by streaming services advances in the House Prison reforms groups battle over strategy 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 GoodlatteHouse Judiciary delays markup of prison reform bill Overnight Health Care: New allegations against VA nominee | Dems worry House moving too fast on opioid bills | HHS chief back in DC | FDA reexamines safety of controversial Parkinson's drug Conservative justices signal willingness to uphold travel ban 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.