White House unveils vision for prison reform

On Tuesday, the Trump administration sent Congress its priorities for prison reform, encouraging the lawmaking body to craft legislation focused on improving rehabilitation and job training for inmates rather than overhauling sentencing mandates.

The goal, a White House official said, is to reduce the recidivism rate, instead of shortening jail sentences.

“The sentencing reform part still does not have a pathway forward to getting done. By doing this in smaller bits and pushing prison reform now, this has a better chance of getting done,” the official told reporters in a conference call.

In addition to unveiling its prison reform goals, the administration signaled its intention to move oversight of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council from the Justice Department to the White House in the near future. The council supervises 20 federal agencies collaborating on re-entry for ex-prison inmates.

Trump’s preferring to center attention on prison reform over new sentencing guidelines comes after failing to find a consensus in Congress.

Trump’s plan places him at odds with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has intensified efforts to move a criminal justice reform bill through the judiciary committee since last year. Grassley’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, has met stiff opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Grassley’s bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent offenders, gives current inmates the right to seek shorter sentences and grants more latitude to judges to offer more lenient sentences for low-level non-violent drug crimes

In contrast, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who has offered the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, appears to have White House support.

Unlike Grassley’s bill, Collins’ legislation allows some non-violent inmates to serve out their sentences in halfway houses or under home confinement if they complete programs designed to reduce recidivism rates. Collins’ bill demands programs include job and vocational skill training and drug treatment.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are working on a bill similar to Collins’ in Congress’ upper chamber.

[Reuters] [The Hill] [Photo courtesy AP/Evan Vucci via Washington Times]