Trump Uses Executive Power to Push Criminal Justice Reform

Yesterday, while the nation’s economists debated the potential for a trade war, the President was busy issuing his latest executive order calling for the establishment of a council to lead federal efforts on reentry and present its initial plans in 90 days or less. The order also discusses the social and economic causes of recidivism, in an unexpected attempt to tackle the most disagreeable symptoms of the current criminal justice system.

The initiative provides a glimmer of hope for criminal justice reform advocates and Americans on parole, but it does not go so far as to undermine the “tough on crime” tone the Administration has set over the past year.

To make sure the EO is covered by the narrowing bipartisan safety net, all measures clearly aim at improving reentry. with which formerly incarcerated people transition back to their communities. The President acknowledges through the EO that one of its leading priorities is to barriers to education, housing, and employment.

“To further improve public safety, we should aim not only to…provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives.” — Sec. 1.

In 2017, the Sentencing Project found that as many as 1/3 adults in America have a criminal record. The Council is charged with finding solutions that take into account many of their socio-economic causes, including but not limited to: lack of education, broken families, substance abuse and mental and behavioral health conditions. All these challenges almost assure recidivism will occur, or that the formerly incarcerated will become impoverished, and therefore dependent on government support in perpetuity.

“This Administration values access to meaningful employment for all Americans. The President understands barriers to employment harm individuals, their families, and our nation’s economy,” says Rufus Montgomery, 20/20 Leaders of America Republican Co-Chair.

20/20 Leader and State Representative Shamed Dogan (R-MO) said on the order, “We’re proud to stand with President Trump on the right side of criminal justice reform, concentrating on an issue that’s been plaguing communities across the country for decades.”

The council will be co-chaired by Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner who has spearheaded prison and reentry reform within the administration. Co-chairs will include departments heads from 11 other federal departments, including The Department of Housing and Urban Development; and The Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Kushner has reportedly hosted meetings with former inmates, faith leaders, members of Congress and prison experts for the project as part of his Office of American Innovation. It has been speculated that Kushner’s personal interest in reform because his father served time in federal prison; and while there is no clear funding allocation for its initiation, it will be a long haul to gain commitment from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of criminal justice reform.

“…it will be a long haul to gain commitment from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of criminal justice reform.”

For example, last year, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) led a bipartisan effort to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA). The bill would have reduced mandatory minimums for some nonviolent and drug crimes. However, then-Senator Sessions led an effort to defeat the bill, labeling it a “criminal leniency bill.”

Fast forward to yesterday’s EO, and there is a notable mum on the need for sentencing reform, a topic of conversation ever since the ‘three strikes’ bill it’s endorser, Former President Clinton now openly regrets. There’s no minimizing the lucrative political capital awaiting the Trump Administration (and the Republican Party) should they be the ones to overturn three strikes, and it would certainly take the full force of the President to get Sessions on board.

It should also be noted the EO officially revokes former President Obama’s 2016 Memorandum: Promoting Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals.

Simone Cherie Price is a nonprofit advisor and criminal justice policy fellow for at 2020 Bipartisan Research Institute, as well as a regular contributor for OUTSET magazine @thesimonecherie

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Simone Chérie

Legal Reform Advocate and Perpetual Optimist. 👩🏽‍💻Grad Student @EmoryLaw.