Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win

Strange bedfellows on criminal justice reform could offer Trump a legislative win
© Getty Images

In a sharply-divided Washington, D.C., where even with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House, nothing seems to be getting done, including the long-promised repeal and replace of Obamacare, and long talked about tax reform. But even as most of the items at the top of the Republicans’ agenda seem stalled, at least for the moment, there is one thing that has bipartisan support and could perhaps bring President Trump a much-needed legislative victory.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyWe've lost sight of the real scandal Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel State Dept sent explosive-detection dogs to Jordan despite evidence of mistreatment: report MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is one of several GOP senators who backs reforms to the current system. He joins Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeExclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Manufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks MORE (R-Utah), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWe've lost sight of the real scandal The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? The Memo: Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy MORE (R-S.C.), Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTo boost minority serving institutions, bipartisan Future Act needs immediate action Cruz to oppose Trump appeals court pick The Hill's Morning Report — The wall problem confronting Dems and the latest on Dorian MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? MORE (R-Mo.) along with Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Trump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' MORE (Ill.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (R.I.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine On The Money: Trump delays increase in China tariffs until Oct. 15 | Treasury says US deficit topped trillion in 11 months | Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections MORE (Vt.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Poll: 33 percent of voters undecided on who won third Democratic debate Jon Bon Jovi: Booker would 'do an amazing job' as president MORE (N.J.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGrassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings MORE (Calif.) in renewed bipartisan calls for reforms to the criminal justice system.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, which seeks to reduce sentencing for prior drug offenses, reduce the current mandatory minimum sentences, and help recently released inmates reintegrate into society and become productive citizens.


Lawmakers from both sides arrive at the same conclusion based on different reasons. However, what truly matters to voters is that they can, at least, arrive at the same conclusion.


Grassley introduced the bill in the Senate on Oct. 4. The Iowa Republican said the bill “ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society.” Grassley added that the legislation “strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”

Democrats, like Booker, argue that the legislation prevents minorities and the poor from being “disproportionally affected” by what Leahy described as “ineffective and draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”

“The mass incarceration explosion of the last 40 years has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, held back our economy, undermined public safety, disproportionately affected communities of color and the poor, and devalued the very idea of justice in America,” Booker said. “The bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a critically important and urgently needed step forward to help right these wrongs.”

Booker is right. The U.S. prison population is among the highest in the world, with an estimated 6,741,400 inmates in federal, state and local prisons at the end of 2015, according to a Dec. 29, 2016 press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the ACLU, the U.S. was the “world’s largest jailer” in 2014. Despite being home to just five percent of the global population, the U.S. inmate population accounted for 20 percent of the world’s total incarceration population during that year.

It’s a trend that has been rising steadily for decades. Between 1980 and 2014, the population of inmates in the U.S. increased 408 percent. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate in the U.S. has steadily declined since 1980, with the exception of a slight uptick in violent crime during the early to mid-1990s, Business Insider reported.

The issue of criminal justice reform is one of the few in Washington that could bring lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together to potentially pass landmark reforms, though it’s unclear whether Trump and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDemocrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House House Democrats seeking Sessions's testimony in impeachment probe McCabe's counsel presses US attorney on whether grand jury decided not to indict MORE, who generally support stricter sentences, would support the legislation.

Yet, without the repeal of ObamaCare, and with the prospects for tax reform in question, the administration would be smart to embrace criminal justice reform as one significant legislative victory potentially within its reach.

Jon Street is a former assistant editor for The Blaze and the former Vermont Bureau Chief for The Franklin Center's"