Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform

Trump, Kushner meet with advocates on prison reform
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerPresident tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign 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 SessionsTrump admin erases key environmental enforcement tool DOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel 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 GrassleyWhite House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation MORE (R-Iowa), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal Activist groups push House Judiciary leaders to end mass phone data collection 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 JeffriesAnti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out Jeffries dismisses optics: We wanted testimony from Mueller, not Robert De Niro 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 GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute 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.