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January 24, 2018

Encouraging new report on prospects for prison reform legislation emerging from Congress

This report from The Hill, headlined "Prison reform gains new momentum under Trump," suggests that recent talk from the White house about prison reform might soon become real action from Congress.  Here are the details of an encouraging story:

Momentum is building under the Trump administration for criminal justice reform. The path forward, however, is looking a little different than it has in the past.

Previous efforts to reform the justice system have focused on cutting prison time for convicted felons. But those taking part in the current discussions say the focus has shifted to preventing ex-convicts from returning to jail, suggesting this approach has the best chance of winning approval from both Congress and the White House.

A source familiar with the talks between the White House and GOP members of Congress said a bipartisan prison-reform bill offered by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is expected to be marked up in the House Judiciary Committee before the first quarter ends in April.

The Prison Reform and Redemption Act, co-sponsored by eight Democrats and seven Republicans, allows prisoners to serve the final days of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. To do so, prisoners have to complete evidence-based programs while in prison that have been shown to reduce recidivism rates. The legislation directs the attorney general to identify the most effective programs, which could include everything from job and vocational skills training to education and drug treatment....

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Collins and Cornyn are working closely together to ensure any differences between their bills are reconciled, the source familiar with talks said.

President Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, have met with lawmakers and advocates to talk about prison reform and the success states have had in the last few months, signaling there’s White House support for legislation. “The administration strongly believes that prison reform is a conservative issue that will help reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars and has the potential to gain bipartisan support,” a White House source said.

Bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts until now have largely focused on proposals to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for certain nonviolent drug offenders and armed career criminals.  While talks now appear focused on prison reform, advocates say sentencing reform isn’t off the table just yet.

Brooke Rollins, president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which started the national Right on Crime campaign, said there’s more divisiveness around sentencing reform. “My best educated guess is that at some point that will become part of the discussion, but right now there is an encouraging [group] coalescing around prison reform.”

Rollins notes that criminal justice reform is a big issue and commended the administration for tackling it one piece at a time. “When trying to get it done all at once, you often end up with nothing,” she said. “I think this administration is smart to focus on prison reform for now.”

I share the view that an effort to get everything in one big reform bill can sometimes prevent getting any bill through the legislative process. And given that a good prison reform bill with lots of potential sentence-reduction credits could prove even more consequential for current and future federal prisoners than even broad mandatory minimum reforms, I am especially encouraged by the prospect of a prison reform bill being the first priority for Congress in the months ahead.  Of course, as with all parts of sentencing reform, the devil is in the details; I will not get to revved up about possible reform until the particulars are made public.  But this report heightens my hope that some significant federal reform may actually get done in the first part of 2018.

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January 24, 2018 at 11:31 PM | Permalink


Very bad news for crime victims.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 24, 2018 11:58:55 PM

This is a very good reform with a clearly defined objective, to prevent the ex convicts from returning back to the crime.I hope this takes shapes and succeeds, dream of one day of empty prison houses.

Posted by: Paul Carrillo | Jan 25, 2018 7:34:20 AM

This legislation may pass, but this Justice Department has closed several federal halfway houses since this President took office. Federal prisoners already go to halfway houses but they have made it harder to get bed space. They have also embraced private, for-profit prisons. So I don't think this rosy outlook is justified.

Posted by: defendergirl | Jan 25, 2018 8:57:11 AM

What a hideous, unauthorized human experiment on a mass scale. Whatever they propose should be field tested in a small jurisdiction. If successful with a meaningful change, i.e. greater than a third, test in a larger jurisdiction, before going national.

Dumping highly toxic people onto politically weak neighborhoods is environmental discrimination.

Prof. Berman should disclose any salary he will be getting from the Koch brothers, if he is accepting any from them.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 25, 2018 10:34:28 AM

Is this youth more or less dangerous than if he had been hired by a gang to do what he did for money? He is now being loosed by the lawyer profession.


Posted by: David Behar | Jan 25, 2018 10:44:22 AM

Why is this serial murderer still alive? He was protected by the lawyer profession, in Mexico, and now, in the US. The lawyer profession is 100% responsible for all his murders.


Posted by: David Behar | Jan 25, 2018 10:58:46 AM

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