69°F
weather icon Overcast

Trump backs major rewrite of federal sentencing laws

Updated November 14, 2018 - 5:21 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump embraced federal criminal sentencing reform Wednesday as he announced his support for bipartisan legislation to help released inmates re-enter society, but with a new twist.

In a sharp policy change, Trump announced that he will support a prison reform bill, called the First Step Act, with sentencing reforms that would increase judicial discretion, end the “stacking” regulation that enhances sentences for crimes committed while possessing a gun, and reduce sentences for nonviolent low-level offenders.

Surrounded by members of Congress, as well as leaders from law enforcement and think tanks, Trump congratulated members for “working together with my administration over the last two years” to reach a bipartisan agreement.

But there was not a Democrat from Congress in the room — a sign that may not bode well for the measure’s passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a proponent of sentencing reform, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, did send out a message that praised Trump’s support for prison and sentencing reform, but Durbin did not attend the event. A White House official told reporters afterwards that the administration does not expect many lawmakers to endorse the bill now because the exact language has not been released.

During his State of the Union address, Trump said that he would “embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” It is a subject he frequently brought up during midterm campaign rallies.

The First Step Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and co-sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., would direct federal prison officials to set up personalized plans for inmates that could include vocational training, substance abuse treatment and mental health care.

“This is actually how legislation’s supposed to happen,” Collins told the Review-Journal.

Bill stalled in Senate

The Collins-Jeffries bill passed the House by a 360-59 vote in May, but stalled in the Senate as advocates demanded sentencing reform. In the House, many Democrats voted against the bill because they did not think it went far enough — in part because the law-and-order Trump opposed sentencing reductions.

Republicans are convinced that sentencing reform can pass both houses only if Trump shows himself to be solidly behind it, Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, told the Review-Journal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will push for a vote during the lame-duck session if he can find the 60 votes needed to bring a bill to the floor.

The driving force behind the announcement is Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who was hailed by the president when he entered the Roosevelt Room. In 2005, Kushner’s father, a real-estate magnate, was sentenced to two years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.

The administration’s most stalwart opponent of sentencing reform was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure last week. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is said to support sentencing reform.

Another factor in Trump’s change of heart was a statement by the National Fraternal Order of Police in support for “certain sentencing reforms” contained in the bill. The 345,000 member organization endorsed Trump in 2016.

“He kept hearing that law enforcement was opposed,” said Nolan, whose center was one of many advocacy groups that worked with Kushner. Trump “did not want to upset his base within the law enforcement community.”

First reform since 2010

Molly Gill, vice president of policy for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said the measure could be the first mandatory-minimum sentencing reform to be passed since 2010 when President Barack Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act. That measure reduced the disparity in the mandatory minimum sentences applied to possession of crack cocaine and possession of powder cocaine.

Before the 2010 law, an offender with five grams of crack cocaine — about the size of a candy bar — faced 10 years in prison, the same sentence that applied to 5,000 grams of powder cocaine. The longer sentences for crack cocaine offenders fell disproportionately on African-Americans, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the disparity to 18-1, but did not apply retroactively. The new proposed First Step Act would eliminate the disparity and apply it to inmates sentenced previously.

“Thousands of people are sitting in jail doing those pre-2010 sentences and they don’t have any relief until Congress acts,” said Gill. If Congress can push through the measure this week, it would be “an incredible Christmas present” for these inmates and their families.

Nolan, a former Republican California state lawmaker who served 29 months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering, called the bill “the first step.”

“This has shown the Republicans they can deal with this and there’s not political suicide,” he said. “Instead it’s doing the right thing and this will help them.”

But Larry Leiser, president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, said his group considered it “most unfortunate” that Trump had been “misled into believing that this bill is going to advance the interests of law-abiding citizens of his country.” His group estimates its passage would lead to the “immediate release” of 4,000 convicted felons.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Scholar Max Eden on how restorative justice decreases student achievement - VIDEO
Across the country, restorative justice is lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at schools. That’s according to Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, who recently released a study discipline reform.
NV Dems Want To Gut Read By Three - Video
Nevada’s students have a major problem. They aren’t very good at reading. In 2017, just 31 percent of fourth graders were proficient at reading according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. The number proficient falls to 28 percent in eighth grade. Read by Three could change that. If a student can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade, he repeats the grade.
Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard stumps in Las Vegas
Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, holds a meet and greet at the Asian Culture Center in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 18, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nye County pushes back against state gun bill
Gun store owner Robby Brentlinger and John Koenig, Chairman of the Nye County Board of Commissioners, discuss their thoughts on gun rights and Nevada Senate Bill 143. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday.
Atkinson pleads guilty to wire fraud charges
U.S. Attorney’s Office announces plea deal for charges against former Nevada Senate majority leader Kelvin Atkinson during a press conference on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday, less than a week after resigning from his post. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Melania Trump Speaks Out About Opioid Epidemic - VIDEO
Melania Trump speaks at the Westgate hotel about the Opioid epidemic in the United State and how this generation can be the group that ends it.
Nevada Legislative Session Preview: Education, Yucca Mountain and Microchips
The Nevada Legislature will be meeting to look at new bills that involve education and marriage age restrictions. Governor Sisolak has also requested to meet with the White House about the plutonium shipments sent to Nevada.
Cortez Masto, Rosen For Infanticide - VIDEO
If an abortionist — armed with scissors, clamps and a vacuum cleaner — can’t kill a baby while she’s still in the womb, he shouldn’t get another chance after she’s born. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen disagree.
Abortion Bill Would Decriminalize Causing A Pregnant Woman To Miscarry - VIDEO
If abortion advocates believed their own rhetoric, they’d oppose the Trust Nevada Women Act.
Las Vegas city council candidate Diaz talks about Badlands, public safety and homelessness
The residents of Las Vegas’ Ward 3 aren’t thinking about the development issues surrounding Badlands golf course. They do, however, want more neighborhood police patrols to increase public safety. Other jurisdictions should help the City of Las Vegas with its growing homelessness population. That’s according to former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz who’s running for the Ward 3 city council seat.
THE LATEST
House panel subpoenas Hope Hicks and counsel’s aide

It also subpoenaed Annie Donaldson, a top aide to former White House Counsel Donald McGahn, for documents and for questioning in a private deposition.

GOP scorns Amash’s impeachment call, but does not punish

Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy pushed back Tuesday against Rep. Justin Amash and his call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, saying the Michigan Republican is out of step with others in the party.