EDITORIAL: Donald Trump embraces criminal justice reform

Some members of the Trump Resistance appear willing to undermine their own agenda in order to thwart the president.

Donald Trump on Friday “urged Congress to overhaul the nation’s prison system and help more former inmates re-enter society,” The Associated Press reports. This should elicit whoops and hollers from progressives, who have long advocated for criminal justice reform.

Instead, a handful of influential Democrats announced their opposition to a House bill that attempts to implement fixes that civil rights advocates have sought for years.

The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., would allow certain prisoners to serve their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement if they complete prison education, job-training or addiction programs.

“We have a broken criminal justice system,” Reps. Collins and Jeffries said in a statement, The Hill reported, “that must be reformed in a compassionate and cost-effective way that helps people return to their communities and rebuild their lives.”

Indeed. Their proposal would help certain offenders make the adjustments necessary to become productive members of society. It could also help reduce the prison population by offering alternatives to nonviolent offenders who show a willingness to improve themselves.

The president has indicated he will sign the bill, which has support across the political spectrum and from interests as varied as the libertarian Koch brothers and Van Jones, a former adviser to President Barack Obama.

But some Democrats and liberal organizations are now threatening to scuttle the reform, arguing it doesn’t go far enough. The NAACP and ACLU have both criticized the proposal as watered down and ineffective because it fails to address the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. They’re also rabid opponents of President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

It’s true that mandatory minimum sentences take discretion out of the hands of judges and create injustices, often along racial lines. Congress should take up this issue.

But the perfect mustn’t be the enemy of the good — particularly if the votes aren’t there to eliminate mandatory minimums. Killing the Collins-Jeffries bill accomplish nothing but slowing the momentum for criminal justice reform, in general. That would be a true step backward.

Taxpayer spending on prisons has jumped nearly 600 percent over the past three decades. Yes, the bad guys deserve to be behind bars. But sensible reform can ensure that repeat and violent offenders remain segregated while also offering opportunities for those who have made poor choices to get back up on their feet. The Collins-Jeffries bill isn’t a cure-all by any means, but it’s progress.

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