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Katie Greer | August 10, 2018
Federal prison reform has received mounting support from President Donald Trump since initial meetings at the White House last September.
For nearly a year, the President has urged Congress both publicly and behind the scenes to take action, particularly in regards to reducing the nation’s 70 percent recidivism rate. In his first State of the Union address he called for reentry programs that rehabilitate and equip former offenders to rejoin society as productive, law-abiding citizens.
Trump reiterated this in a meeting with urban pastors last week saying, “We want them to get jobs so they don’t have to return to a life of crime and go back to the same prison that they just got out of.” The very next day, Trump met with key Senators, including criminal justice reform heavyweight Mike Lee (R-UT), and voiced his support for Congress to consider modest sentencing reform in addition to the reentry-focused FIRST STEP Act. It is unclear what measures of sentencing reform will make it through the legislative branch, but early conversations hint at reduced mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
The House passed the FIRST STEP Act by an impressive 360-59 vote in May. The bill increases funding for risk and needs assessments, job training, and substance abuse treatment to help ensure offenders leave better than they went in. It incentivizes participation in these programs with the opportunity to gain “earned time” credits. These credits allow reformed offenders to spend pre-release custody time in halfway houses or home confinement. Additionally, the FIRST STEP Act strives to strengthen family ties by capping the distance eligible offenders can be housed from their homes – a key component to inmates’ ability to thrive upon release.
On Thursday, President Trump met with governors and attorneys general from across the U.S. in Bedminster, New Jersey to hear about their states’ successes with criminal justice reform. Attendees outlined how reentry programs and sentencing reform measures helped their states cut crime and prison costs simultaneously.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal cited a 19 percent drop in recidivism among inmates who earn a high school diploma and 24 percent decrease in recidivism for inmates who gained job skills through programs implemented by his administration.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant credited what he dubbed the “Right on Crime program” for much of his state’s progress on the issue. Bryant vouched for helping inmates obtain driver’s licenses as well as “keeping them connected with their families so they have something to work towards getting out of prison.”
Former Texas Governor and now Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and former Texas Public Policy Foundation President Brooke Rollins were all present to testify to the success of Texas’ overhaul. Texas implemented sentencing reform and rehabilitative programs, but never lost its tough-on-crime swagger. Instead, the Lone Star State became the model for smart-on-crime criminal justice systems. Perry thanked the President for “creating a climate where people can have a job and have hope for the future.”
The hope for a second chance is a major thread in America’s founding principles and a huge theme in prison reform. Measures in the FIRST STEP Act aim to address inmates’ underlying issues – from a lack of education to a need for addiction treatment – to help them back on their feet outside of prison. This incredible opportunity to change lives and deliver second chances has not been lost on the faith community.
“We pray the Senate will act swiftly to bring relief to the tens of thousands of people in federal prisons and their families,” said Senior Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy of Prison Fellowship and Right on Crime Signatory Craig DeRoche.
Right on Crime works to mobilize the voices of prominent leaders to elevate conservative principles of reform. Last week, conservative luminaries from Gingrich and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint applauded the President for taking his support for prison reform a step further by approving a modest amount of sentencing reform as an addition to the FIRST STEP Act.
“It’s important the president is open to limited sentencing reform being added to the prison reform legislation being considered in the Senate,” said Gingrich. “The guilty must be held to account, and it is our responsibility to ensure the punishment fits the crime. Certain sentencing statutes have not performed as intended, have led to unjust consequences, and should be eliminated. Adding such provisions to the FIRST STEP Act is just common sense.”
Right on Crime is encouraged by the President’s unwavering commitment to prison reform. The ball is now in the Senate’s court.