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Left-Leaning Organization Sues Trump’s DOJ Over Lying About Prison Reform

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter

Democracy Forward Foundation, a liberal watchdog organization, sued President Donald Trump’s Justice Department Tuesday, claiming it had refused to turn over documents proving Trump’s goal in prison reform was to enrich private prison corporations.

The lawsuit relates to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to stop phasing out the use of private prisons, a process former President Barack Obama’s administration began in 2016. With Trump naming prison reform as a top priority for his administration in his recent State of the Union address, the watchdog claims what Trump is calling prison reform is simply a hand out to the private prison industry.

“Defendant’s abrupt pivot toward private prisons is occurring as the private prison industry is providing substantial support for President Donald J. Trump’s political and personal endeavors,” the lawsuit states. “The industry helped finance President Trump’s campaign and inaugural festivities, and it continues to patronize his business enterprises.”

Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is largely responsible for Trump’s emphasis on prison reforms, however. Opposing Sessions’ “tough on crime” approach, he held round tables for months with justice reform advocates on both sides of the aisle, eventually coming to a compromise with Sessions that the administration would pursue prison reforms, but not sentencing reforms.

Nevertheless, Democracy Forward Foundation spokesman Corey Ciorciari claims Kushner and the administration “opened the floodgates to cronyism by enriching the for-profit prison industry.”

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“When prison reform comes down to increasing the federal prison population and increasing profit for the private prison industry, it might be what the Trump administration considers prison reform, but I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the country,” Ciorciari told Newsweek.

Recent prison reform legislation that seems to be backed by the White House relates only to anti-recidivism efforts, however. It does not order any sort of transfer of inmates from public to private facilities. Many find private prisons prone to predatory practices and remain in favor of phasing them out. The American Civil Liberties Union is among them, claiming the for-profit model is responsible for “numerous cases of violence and atrocious conditions.”

The lawsuit also mentions a memo directing wardens to transfer non-U.S. citizens to private facilities. The leaked memo showed further commitment by the Trump administration to rely on private prisons to house illegal immigrants. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), however, claims the memo is simply an unremarkable routine reminder to wardens that they are to transfer excess illegal immigrants to private prisons, spokeswoman Nancy Ayers told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

GEO Group, one of the largest private prison organizations in the country, donated nearly $500,000 to Trump’s 2016 campaign and held its annual executive meeting at a Trump hotel. GEO received Trump’s first contract for an illegal immigrant detention facility in mid 2017. The new contract caused the group’s stock prices to triple after years of decline under the Obama administration.

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