President Trump signaled that he would sign prison reform legislation if Congress sends it to his desk during Friday’s White House Prison Reform Summit:
“My administration strongly supports these efforts, and I urge the House and Senate to get together… to work out their differences. Get a bill to my desk. I will sign it.”
The prison reform summit—the first of its kind—hosted more than 100 advocates and policymakers brought together to tout the public safety benefits of prison rehabilitation programs. A young girl named Hannah, whose father was incarcerated, testified that these programs can help moms and dads get the help they need before they’re reunited with their kids upon release.
Prison reform legislation passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by an impressive 25-5 vote last week. The bill known as the FIRST STEP Act, authored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incentivizes participation in rehabilitation programs with the opportunity to gain “earned time” credits. In short, these credits allow reformed offenders to spend pre-release custody time in halfway houses or home confinement.
Vice President Mike Pence shared that when he was governor of Indiana, he saw first-hand that workforce training and faith-based programs can have a meaningful impact on inmates’ lives. He said that the federal prison system “costs too much and delivers too little” due to a lack of reentry programs that could otherwise turn around re-offense rates. Currently, issues such as addiction, mental illness, and lack of education and job skills go unaddressed. This often leaves inmates feeling as though they have no option but to return to a life of crime upon release, leading 70 percent to return to prison within five years of release. However, the federal prison system could begin preparing inmates to be self-sufficient upon release by passing prison reform.
“This will be the White House that reforms the American prison system for the betterment of all the American people.” – Vice President Mike Pence
Prison reform legislation is expected to hit the House floor sometime in the coming weeks. White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner has been working with prison reform advocates and members of Congress to get the bill where it is today. He said the FIRST STEP Act aims to help former offenders gain “the best chance of having a productive life” after prison. The programs were modeled based on success garnered in states that have cut crime and costs simultaneously. No state knows the benefits of prison reform better than Texas.
Texas has reduced its crime rate by more than 30 percent and saved billions of tax dollars with the help of reforms that were passed in 2007. Former Governor Rick Perry said, “[w]e were ruining a lot of lives, lives that we didn’t have to ruin” prior to instituting rehabilitation programs in state prisons. He applauded Brooke Rollins of the Texas Public Policy Foundation for helping lead the charge for reform. Rollins said these results paired with the American principle of redemption should encourage Congress to move prison reform forward.
“This is real conservatism.” – Secretary Rick Perry
The White House Prison Reform Summit was brought to a close with remarks by President Trump. He underlined that in order to build a great economy, America must do more to integrate former inmates in its workforce. A lack of prison programs and regulatory barriers to employment can be detrimental to a successful reentry into society. “Nobody wins when former prisoners fail to adjust to life outside, or worse, end up back behind bars,” President Trump said. “We want former inmates to find a path to success so they can support their families and support their communities.” Rehabilitation programs that address the underlying issues behind criminal behavior help inmates stay crime-free upon release. Congress has a huge opportunity to deliver prison reform this session.
“So we’re going to make our communities more secure, and we’re going to make our country more prosperous. And together, we will make America safer, and stronger, and greater than ever before.” – President Donald Trump
White House officials in attendance:
Vice President Pence, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, Jim Carroll The Office of National Drug Control Policy, General John Kelly, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, Jared Kushner, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor, Marc Short, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs, Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Andrew Bremberg, Assistant to the President and Director of Domestic Policy Council, Ja’Ron Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Urban Affairs, Andrew Koenig, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs
Legislators and advocates in attendance:
Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan, Congressman Doug Collins, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Brooke Rollins, Texas Public Policy Institute, Van Jones, Cut50, Jessica Jackson Sloane, Cut 50, Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House, Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, Shon Hopwood, Georgetown Law Professor and member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Paula White, Senior Pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, Darrell Scott, Co-founder of the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Mark Goldsmith, Get Out Stay Out, Jim DeMint, Chairman, Conservative Partnership Institute, John Koufos, Executive Director – Safe Streets and Second Chances/National Director of Reentry Initiatives – Right On Crime, Mark Holden, Koch Industries, Bryan Kelley, Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program, Texas, Atif Bostic, Uplift Solutions, Pennsylvania, Tom Streitz, Twin Cities Rise, Minnesota, Beverly Parenti, The Last Mile, California, Topeka Sam, Cut50, Sue Ellen Allen, Reinventing Reentry, Pamela Winn, Restore Her, Rebecca Hagelin, Columnist, David Muhlhausen, Jacob Horowitz, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Amy Solomon, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Derek Cohen, Ph.D., Right On Crime, Edward J. Latessa, Ph.D., The Ohio State University, Matt Whitaker, Department of Justice, Jamal Nelson, Council of State Governments, David Safavian, American Conservative Union, Judith Garrett, Bureau of Prisons, Ivy Woolf Turk, Founder of Project Liberation, Kevin Gay, Operation New Hope, Wilfredo Torres, Federal Probation Officer – District of New Jersey