“We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance, and make our community safe,” President Trump said at a roundtable Thursday. Conservative advocates for reform came away optimistic, but it’s not clear that the White House will support any changes in sentencing laws.
President Trump campaigned on a promise of law and order. On Thursday, the White House deployed the bully pulpit on behalf of prisoners struggling when they return home. At a roundtable with policy experts and elected officials, Trump expressed a desire to “break this vicious cycle” of inmates turning to crime when their lives outside prison prove too difficult, NPR reports. Justice Department data show that two-thirds of the 650,000 people who leave the corrections system every year are arrested again within three years. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance, and make our community safe,” Trump said.
Mark Holden of the conservative Freedom Partners came away from the meeting with a sense of optimism. Trump was an active participant, staying for the 45-minute session and asking questions, he said. “I saw some passion there,” Holden said. “He seemed like he got the issue, understood it and connected with it.” The president paid attention to the idea that states including Texas, South Carolina and Georgia have overhauled their justice systems, with some success. Brooke Rollins of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said, “I really think the White House is looking at lots of different avenues forward,” from congressional action to executive orders. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has criticized granting leniency to drug offenders, attended the White House meeting and suggested he might be open to compromise on ideas such as job training. “The president talking about prison reform is a good thing,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which supports inmates and their families.
The extent of White House support for reform was in dispute. Congress has failed to act on broader measures that would cut prison terms for drug offenders. It’s not clear the Senate leadership will address the issue in this midterm election year. Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network said, “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. “I don’t think there’s going to be any more justifications to hold up this legislation,” The Hill reports. The publication added that, “A source familiar with the talks confirmed the White House does not view sentencing reform as part of prison reform or a way forward.”
The President’s opening remarks, as well as those by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevins, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and others, can be seen here.