President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE and Jared Kushner Jared Corey KushnerKushner: Trump team working on Mideast peace plan unconventional, but ‘perfectly qualified’ US attorney fired by Trump: Mueller team likely looking at everyone Additional Trump transition official identified who knew about Flynn’s Russia contact: report MORE, his son-in-law and senior adviser, met with criminal justice reform advocates Thursday, giving new hope that action to reverse the nation’s burgeoning incarceration rates is still possible.
A White House official told The Hill the meeting was focused on prison reform and reentry, as well as the successes states like Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky have had in enacting programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates and rehabilitating inmates.
Trump said during the meeting that his administration is committed to helping former inmates become productive, law abiding members of society.
“Two-thirds of the 650,000 people released from prison each year are arrested again within three years,” he said. “We can help break this viscous cycle through job training, very important, job training, mentoring and drug addiction treatment. … We’ll be very tough on crime, but we will provide a ladder of opportunity for the future.”
The White House official also said prison reform was discussed at the presidential retreat at Camp David this past weekend and that the Trump administration over the past six months has been hosting roundtable discussions and listening sessions on prison reform and the reentry of released individuals to society.
“These meetings have included federal and state officials, faith leaders, grassroots leaders and prison reform experts,” the official said in an email.
Invited guests Thursday included Matt Schlapp, board chair of the American Conservative Union; Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R); Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R); and Koch Industries’ lead attorney, Mark Holden.
Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, was also expected to be there, along with former bank robber Shon Hopwood, who is now an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Board of Directors.
Thursday’s discussion also included Attorney General Jeff Sessions Jefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE and Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly John Francis KellyMORE.
Brooke Rollins, who spoke to The Hill Thursday afternoon, said attendees in the meeting spent a good amount of time talking about state success stories.
“In Texas we’ve changed a lot of laws and closed eight prisons,” she said. “And the crime rate is down 31 percent over the last 10 years at a time when our population has exploded.”
Rollins said she thinks the administration is looking at what has worked at the state level and what options they have to reduce recidivism rates be it through executive or legislative action.
Citing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a White House official said there were 1.5 million individuals, including illegal aliens, incarcerated nationwide as of 2015. The official said that 68 percent of state offenders — the majority of those incarcerated in the United States — are rearrested within three years while 77 percent are rearrested within five years.
The meeting emboldened some advocates who saw it as sign the White House is officially on board with criminal justice reform.
“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,” said Holly Harris, executive director of Justice Action Network.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any more justifications to hold up this legislation.”
Thursday’s meeting wasn’t Kushner first on the issue.
The president’s son-in-law met with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley Charles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa), Sen. Mike Lee Michael (Mike) Shumway LeeSupreme Court takes on same-sex wedding cake case House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments MORE (R-Utah) and Sen. Dick Durbin Richard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota’s largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) in March about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act – legislation to reduce mandatory minimum prisons sentences for certain drug offenses and armed career criminals – that stalled in the previous Congress.
But a source familiar with the talks confirmed the White House does not view sentencing reform as part of prison reform or a way forward.
Kushner held a roundtable discussion with members of Congress, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn John CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Sheldon WhitehouseOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief’s meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Energy: Watchdog probes Pruitt speech to mining group | EPA chief promises to let climate scientists present their work | Volkswagen manager gets 7 years for emissions cheating EPA head pledges to protect climate scientists MORE (D-R.I.) and Rep. Doug Collins Douglas (Doug) Allen CollinsOvernight Regulation: GOP flexes power over consumer agency | Trump lets states expand drone use | Senate panel advances controversial EPA pick | House passes bill to curb ‘sue-and-settle’ regs Overnight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers grill Trump officials over Kaspersky threat | Trump camp distances itself from data firm | What we know about Bad Rabbit | Conservative groups back data privacy bill House passes bill to curb sue-and-settle regulation MORE (R-Ga.) in September to gather recommendations for improving mentoring and job training in federal prisons, according to a Washington Post report.
Cornyn and Sheldon introduced the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers In Our National System (CORRECTIONS) Act in October.
The bill requires the Bureau of Prisons to expand programs that reduce recidivism rates and allows eligible inmates who successfully complete the programs to earn credit toward time in pre-release custody.
But lawmakers and advocates say a similar bill Collins introduced in the House in July is likely to move first.
The Prison Reform and Redemption Act aims to incentivize prisoners to participate in recidivism-reduction programs by allowing them to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement.
“I think it’s very positive,” Collins said of Trump’s meeting. “I think it signals we’ve got to start this process rolling and do something we can all find agreement on.”
But not everyone is convinced the meeting is a solid sign of White House support.
“It’s not clear to me it will signal anything as long as he’s got Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States, who’s consistently pushing regressive, dated, failed, so-called law-and-order policies,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Hakeem Sekou JeffriesThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House passes bill removing ‘Negro’ and ‘Oriental’ from federal regulations Sessions grilled by lawmakers from both parties MORE (D-N.Y.) told The Hill Thursday morning.
“It does appear based on a public reports that Jared Kushner, as a senior adviser to the president, may be authentically interested in criminal justice reform, but as with anything in terms of this White House it’s not clear what that necessarily means in the context of some of the strident positions that President Trump himself has taken, particularly on the campaign trail,” Jeffries said.
During the campaign Trump called himself the “law and order” candidate and blamed President Obama for the rise in violence in major cities.
Thursday’s meeting comes a week after Sessions rescinded the Obama-era policy that relaxed enforcement of federal marijuana laws, opening the door for federal prosecutors to begin charging users and businesses in states where the drug is legal.
Jeffries, who has teamed up with Collins on his prison reform bill, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte Robert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.) has expressed interest in moving the legislation forward, but a markup of the bill has not yet been scheduled.
But he said if Congress is ever going to do something meaningful to reduce mass incarceration, sentencing reform has to happen alongside prison reform.
“What is clear is that Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, people on the left and on the right generally agree that criminal justice reform is a good thing for this country and mass incarceration is something that should be addressed,” he said.
“We have a coalition of unusual suspects that have come together in this country to deal with criminal justice reform and if in fact the White House is on board, we’ll be able to get something done.”
-Updated 3:58 p.m.