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February 2, 2020

Prez Trump's reelection campaign premieres ad focused on criminal justice reform during Super Bowl

As reported in this Washington Times article, headlined "'Trump got it done': Trump's Super Bowl ad highlights criminal-justice reform," there was one especially notable ad during the big game for sentencing fans.  Here are the details and context:

President Trump’s reelection campaign aired a surprise TV ad on criminal-justice reform during the Super Bowl Sunday night featuring the president’s grant of clemency for former inmate Alice Johnson.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale contrasted the president’s leadership on criminal-justice reform with NFL players who previously knelt during the Star-Spangled Banner to protest injustices in the legal system. “President Trump strongly disagreed with how some in the NFL chose to disrespect our flag, our country, and the people who serve it, just to express their views of the criminal justice system,” Mr. Parscale said. “The Super Bowl is the perfect place to debut this ad, because it clearly communicates how President Trump expressed his concerns about the issue – he acted and he helped improve people’s lives.”

The 30-second spot in black and white showed Mrs. Johnson, a grandmother who is African-American, expressing jubilation and gratitude to Mr. Trump upon her release from prison after serving 21 years for a first-time drug offense....

The ad states that “politicians talk about criminal justice reform. President Trump got it done. Thousands of families are being reunited.” The campaign had kept the ad under wraps until it aired. The president’s re-election team also paid for a 30-second spot highlighting his efforts to keep America secure and prosperous.

Mr. Trump commuted the sentence for Mrs. Johnson in June 2018. Six months later, he signed into law the First Step Act, which is aimed at providing thousands of prison inmates with a second chance. The law provides inmates with opportunities to take part in vocational training, education, and drug treatment programs to help them gain their release and obtain jobs.

I think all supporters of criminal justice reform should find this ad heartening in the wake of some reports suggesting Prez Trump had soured on reform and viewed the issue now as a political liability (see here).  It seems that at least some folks on Prez Trump's reelection team view criminal justice reform as a winning political issue. 

At the same time, it is a darn shame that Prez Trump is promoting his clemency work when he has still granted relatively few commutations.  Regular readers likely recall that, back in 2018, Prez Trump talked grandly about considering thousands of clemency requests and Alice Marie Johnson potently advocated that the President free "thousands more" federal prisoners like her.  I never really expected Prez Trump to grants thousands of commutations, but I had hoped he would do many more than the six that he has done so far.

February 2, 2020 at 11:17 PM | Permalink


For 8 years you aggressively went after Obama. No about Trump you say "it's a darn shame." Your politics are showing.

Posted by: whatever | Feb 3, 2020 11:09:50 AM

Prez Obama promised to do better and had a real chance to engineer transformative change in the federal criminal justice system, but he largely failed to live up to his campaign mantra of hope and change. Even in the few sentencing arenas in which he actually got something done --- e.g., crack sentencing, clemency initiative --- Prez Obama failed to deliver effectively on his promises (e.g., he called for equalizing crack/powder, got no where close; he failed to grant clemency to thousands who met his announced criteria).

Meanwhile, Prez Trump made no promises in this space, and yet he got the transformative FIRST STEP Act to the finish line and helped make sure sentencing reforms were part of the enacted package. And in Trump's first 3 years in office, the federal prison population decreased more than 15,000 prisoners, whereas during Obama's first 3 years in office the federal prison population went up more than 15,000.

Critically, in this context I always "grade on a curve" expecting more from those politicians who promise to do more and whose political supporters are looking for more. In other words, my commentary typically reflects my view of actual results relative to expectations with respect to sentencing policy and practice.

Posted by: Doug Berman | Feb 4, 2020 8:48:04 AM

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