The White House Is Finally Making Its Prison Reform Push

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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A bipartisan pair of representatives unveiled their new White House-backed prison reform bill Monday, confirming President Donald Trump’s administration is hesitating to pursue sentencing reform.

Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has repeatedly butted heads with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on how far the administration’s reforms should go with criminal justice reforms. Kushner wants sentencing and prison reform, but Sessions is a long-time advocate for “tough on crime” policies. For now, the pair appear to have reached a compromise in which Sessions won’t speak out against prison reforms and Kushner won’t try to cut sentences. The new bill, presented by Republican Rep. Doug Collins and Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, supports that theory.

“What we’re disagreeing on right now is how far can we go right now,” Collins said in an interview Monday. “Do you want to actually make law, or do you want to make press releases?”

The bill would grant funding for anti-recidivism efforts such as rehabilitation programs, Politico reported Monday. The bill will be up for vote in the House Judiciary Committee May 9. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a justice reform bill February 15 that encompassed both lowered sentencing and adopted prison reforms, but it has yet to reach a vote on the floor and likely never will. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented a virtually identical bill from reaching the floor in the previous Congress.

Criminal justice reforms have appeared to enjoy wide bipartisan support for years, yet little action has been taken on the federal level. State-level initiatives have been far more successful, however, led primarily by red states such as Texas, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Louisiana, the state sporting the highest incarceration rate in the country, adopted a 10-bill package of justice reforms in early 2017, aiming at cutting the prison population through both anti-recidivism efforts and sentencing changes. Such all-encompassing reforms are unlikely on the federal level so long as Sessions has a say, however, but advocates say they should take what they can get now and hope the administration has a change of heart later.

“There were some who took the position that we should wait on criminal justice reform until [Hillary] Clinton is president and Democrats were in control of the Senate. How did that work out?” Jeffries asked Politico.

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