Trump will push for prison reform at White House summit. Will so - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trump pushes for prison reform at White House summit. Will some reform lead to more?

Posted: Updated: May 18, 2018 9:13 PM
President Trump speaks during a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Jan. 11. President Trump speaks during a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Jan. 11.
Video

WASHINGTON - President Trump gave a boost to criminal justice reform efforts Friday, hosting a White House summit aimed at bridging the partisan divide and urging Congress to pass a prisons bill.

"Send a bill to my desk. I will sign it," he told a bipartisan group of activists, experts and officials. "It will be strong and it will be good, and it will be what everybody wants."

Trump's proposals deal mostly with improving prison conditions and better preparing prisoners for successful re-entry into society - a step short of the kind of comprehensive sentencing reform many Democrats are hoping for. But the White House sees the prison issues as the best hope for getting a bipartisan bill passed.

"Prison reform is an issue that unites people from across our political spectrum. It's an amazing thing. Our whole nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter our society ads productive, law-abiding citizens," Trump said.

Trump has spoken about prison reform before, working mostly with his loyal supporters to make a conservative, smaller-government argument for fewer, better-run prisons.

More: Trump tackles prison reform: 'We can help break this vicious cycle'

Friday's summit reached across the aisle. "As you know, I'm on the left side of Pluto," said Van Jones, an cable news commentator and former Obama White House adviser who moderated a discussion at the White House Friday.

"But one thing I know is that it's one of these strange issues that the more people engage on it, the more stupidity they see in the system. The more we can get the Trump White House and the Republican party to engage in this issue at all, the more progress we'll make," Jones said. "And then I think more reform leads to more reform."

Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, is spearheading the White House prison effort.

"This is an issue I had personal experience with, so I spent some time thinking, from the White House, what can be done," Kushner said Friday in rare public remarks. His father, New York developer Charlie Kushner, spent 14 months in a federal prison camp after being convicted of political corruption charges.

At the White House event, Jones asked Kushner whether Trump's proposals were too limited because they wouldn't reduce the number of people sent to prison in the first place.

"What we've seen is that they've been trying to do that at the federal level for eight years," Kushner said. "What they've done is nothing because they haven't been able to pass it though."

"If we can start showing that we can make the prisons more purposeful and effective at lowering the recidivism rate over time, that might help people who are making the argument for sentencing reform."

A step-by-step process

The White House outlined a number of proposals the president will support, including:

? Addressing women's issues. Trump's proposals would make female health products more available in federal prisons and all but ending the practice of shackling female inmates during childbirth.

Basic issues like sanitary items and bathroom privacy haven't gotten attention from male prison officials, so one White House panel Friday - led by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin - focused on the experience of female prisoners.

Since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has grown 700%, said Jessica Jackson Sloan, a California human rights attorney, "but we still have prison policies not designed for women."

? Give prisoners more privileges. Evidence shows that keeping prisoners better connected to their families can improve their post-prison outcomes, so the White House wants to give low-risk prisoners more interaction with the outside world.

That includes more phone and video conferencing, email, visitation time, and opportunities to transfer to a prison closer to home.

But it could also include incentives for good behavior, including larger commissary spending limits, better housing and "good time" credits off the sentence.

? Improving prisoner re-entry. The White House is embracing proposals to conduct risk assessments on soon-to-be-released prisoners to tailor programs most likely to make them successful on the outside.

A report to be released Friday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers makes a taxpayer-friendly argument for those programs.

For every dollar spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment in prisons, it said, taxpayers could save $1.47 to $5.27 on the cost of repeat crime and incarceration, for example.

The report is somewhat more skeptical of the return on investment for prison educational programs, saying the evidence they reduce recidivism is flawed - but that they could still boost prisoners' lifetime earnings.

The First Step Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week with a 25-to-5 vote. It would place federal prisoners closer to home, allow more home confinement for lower-level offenders, and expand prison employment programs.

Not holding out for 'the perfect bill'

The First Step Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week with a 25-to-5 vote. It would place federal prisoners closer to home, allow more home confinement for lower-level offenders, and expand prison employment programs.

Giving the effort some momentum is an endorsement from the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 48 lawmakers. Under caucus rules, members agree to support any proposal that gets support from 75% of the group.

"The more we can show potentially the success with prison reform, that could open the door to sentencing reform," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., the co-chairman of the caucus. "This is a much clearer path to get to that 80% success as opposed to holding out for the perfect bill."

More: Jared Kushner, Van Jones and Grover Norquist lobby bipartisan caucus on prison reform

Some civil rights groups oppose the Collins bill, saying it addresses problems with the criminal justice system on the back end but don't end the pipeline to imprisonment on the front end.

And there are concerns about the data that will be used to assess which prisoners are least likely to offend again. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, for example, said the use of risk assessments "amplify racial disparities and perpetuate other injustices," because they rely on data points that black and Hispanic prisoners may have a harder time overcoming.

But even Democratic supporters of the White House effort say Trump's proposals are a good start.

"In terms of does it go far enough, the criminal justice system is broken in so many aspects and it's going to take us a long time to dig ourselves out of the mess that both Democrats and Republicans have made in mass incarceration," said Sloan, who heads #Cut50, a group pushing for a reduction in the prison population.

Trump signed an executive order in February elevating the Federal Interagency Reentry Council from the Justice Department to the White House. That order requires a report by the end of this month on ways to "break the cycle of crime" and prevent released prisoners from breaking the law again.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 Midwest Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.