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Trump's Push For Prison Reform48:12
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This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. (Rick Bowmer, File/AP)
This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. (Rick Bowmer, File/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

With Ray Suarez

President Trump pushes for prison reform at a White House summit. Congress takes it up, too. We’ll unpack.

Guests

Heather Caygle, congressional reporter at Politico. (@heatherscope)

Inimai Chettiar, justice program director at the Brennan Center, a public policy institute. (@Inimai)

Van Jones, CNN political commentator. President and co-founder of #cut50, a nation initiative to reduce the prison population. (@VanJones68)

Highlights:

On intra-party struggles on the prison reform bill

Caygle: "This is a very interesting case of strange bedfellows in terms of who is lining up on each side. On one side, in support of this prison reform bill, you have Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Doug Collins (R-GA), but you also have the backing of Jared Kushner and the White House and President Trump who said: at the summit on Friday: 'send me a bill, I will sign it.' You also have the Koch brothers, and then on the other side, you have Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin,  and a litany of Civil Rights groups like the ACLU and the NAACP who are opposed to this bill. So the way people are lining up is not your typical Republican vs. Democrat."

On incarceration and solutions

Chettiar: "The real problem here is mass incarceration. That is the locking up of 2.3 million Americans, mostly black and brown. And the real way to solve that is to reduce the number of people entering prison, so that there are not people suffering unnecessarily in prison. When you step back to look at what the solution is to that, that is sentencing reform, as opposed to what the White House is trying to do, which what they're calling 'prison reform,' which is code for helping people while they're in prison but not actually letting them out or reducing the amount of people flowing in."

On the political game behind legislation: 

Chettiar: "The First Step act is actually a step backwards. That's a cave to Jeff Sessions and what it does, is it would hand Trump a political win without actually doing much to end mass incarceration."

Jones: "This is a big problem. This is the one I'm most concerned about: 'We don't want Trump to have a win.' How about giving 200,000 federal prisoners a win to have a chance to be able to come home? I remember when Obama passed Obamacare, and you had Republican governors who refused to take the money to expand Medicaid and let people get sick and die in their states because they knew they had millions of people who too 'rich' for Medicaid but too poor for Obamacare — they let those people fall through the cracks get sick and die rather than give Obama a 'victory.'

"We cannot let that become the way we do politics, where the people at the bottom who have nothing, who are vulnerable, who are hurting, can't get relief because somebody's doing a political calculation about what politician is gonna get benefits."

Van Jones

We cannot let that become the way we do politics, where the people at the bottom who have nothing, who are vulnerable, who are hurting, can't get relief because somebody's doing a political calculation about what politician is gonna get benefits."

From The Reading List

Politico: "Trump pushes for prison reform bill that divides Democrats" — "President Donald Trump on Friday embraced a bipartisan prison reform proposal, but a sharp divide among Democrats on the issue threatens to undermine the deal.

"The discord was on display Friday as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York circulated a scathing letter accusing fellow Democrats of trying to tank the effort by waging an opposition campaign “riddled with factual inaccuracies.” At issue is whether to move ahead with a more narrow overhaul or to hold out for a broader criminal justice bill that includes sentencing reductions."

USA Today: "Trump will push for prison reform at White House summit. Will some reform lead to more?" — "President Trump will give a boost to criminal justice reform efforts Friday, hosting a summit at the White House aimed at bridging the partisan divide in Congress and the states to shrink the nation's prison population.

"But his proposals will deal mostly with improving prison conditions and better preparing prisoners for successful re-entry into society — a step short of the kind of comprehensive sentencing reform many Democrats are hoping for."

What’s prison for? Can it work better for society, and for the incarcerated? Congress, backed by the president, is talking seriously about punishment, rehab, and redemption. Back when violent crime was rising to frightening levels, politicians and a panicky public came to the same conclusion... let’s imprison our way out of the problem. Later in the hour: mass shootings and the young men pulling the triggers.

This hour, On Point: Locking ‘em up, and not throwing away the key. And school violence and guns.

- Ray Suarez

This program aired on May 21, 2018.

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