For Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, prison reform is personal

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wants to help federal inmates “who have served their time get a second chance.” That’s what he said in his 2018 State of the Union address.

Thank Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, not his attorney general. For Kushner, prison reform is personal. In 2005, his real estate mogul father was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.

“Like me, Jared understands because of dealing with the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) and his father,” observed Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform and a former California GOP state lawmaker who served 29 months in federal prison on a racketeering conviction.

Nolan has been at the forefront of a bipartisan movement to overhaul the federal criminal justice system spurred by the left’s aversion to big spending on prisons and the right’s support for smaller, less invasive government. The conservative side of the initiative calls itself “Right on Crime.”

He lauded Kushner for quickly learning “what’s important to do and what we can’t do.”

During President Barack Obama’s second term, congressional standouts like Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., worked together on legislation to reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences designed to put away drug kingpins for decades but too often used to impose stiff time on low-level offenders in the drug trade.

Obama was ready to sign game-changing legislation, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was on board. All Congress had to do was pass something. But nothing happened as the 2016 election eclipsed lawmaking inside the Capitol.

Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder did encourage federal prosecutors not to seek the harshest sentences for non-kingpins. That was progress.

Law-and-order Trump

Then the law-and-order Trump won the White House in November and chose Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be his attorney general. A former federal prosecutor, Sessions rescinded Holder’s instructions.

Big change in the federal system seemed dead, and would have been, if not for Kushner. He explained to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “The administration wants to assist long-time prison reform advocates with their initiative to create a prison system that will rehabilitate citizens who have made mistakes, paid the price and are deserving of a second chance — which will ultimately reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars.”

In practical terms, Kushner has helped in two ways. First, his commitment tells Hill Republicans that Trump is not likely to reverse his support for prison reform.

Kushner also found a way to co-opt Sessions — by convincing inmate advocates to delay their push for sentencing reform in exchange for Sessions not standing in the way of their rehabilitation goals.

Voila. The Justice Department now “is working closely with the White House to develop legislative reforms that further the president’s goals for prison and re-entry improvements,” said spokesman Drew Hudson.

Nolan and others with “Right on Crime” see hope in the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., that would require prisons to assess inmates’ recidivism risk, encourage drug treatment and offer incentives for inmates to participate in recidivism reduction programs.

Collins said his bill would create “a federal prison-wide system for evaluating the risk of every individual prisoner for re-offending and then offering evidence-based resources — like mental health care, vocational skills, substance abuse treatment and faith-based programs — that make them less likely to re-offend when they are released.”

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., have teamed up on a similar bill that seeks to aid prisoner re-entry into society.

Not far enough?

Offering programs to help inmates turn straight should be a popular idea. “Whatever one’s view is of the federal sentencing laws — whether you think they are too fair, too harsh or too lenient — there should be agreement that it is critical for the GOP to have programs for transitioning federal inmates back into society,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in a 2017 report.

Many criminal justice reformers don’t think the Collins bill goes far enough. Like Nolan, they want a bill that pares back federal mandatory minimum sentences that too often put away low and mid-level offenders away for decades, even life. Even under Trump, they won’t settle for inmate-centered reform only.

For example, Eric Sterling, who founded the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to correct excesses in federal drug laws that he helped write as a House aide in the 1980s, thinks Kushner and Nolan have set the bar too low.

“A traditional Washington approach is to say, ‘Always take half a loaf rather than no loaf,’” said Sterling. In this case, “conceptually it doesn’t make sense to just try to fix problems with prisons when you’re not addressing the flows of people coming into prison.”

Sterling recalled how drug-war opponents pushed Congress to reduce a sentencing disparity that fell disproportionately on black offenders. The federal sentence for possessing five grams of crack cocaine was five years in prison, same as for possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine, a drug of choice for white offenders. It took years for Congress to pass a measure addressing the disparity with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, though it merely reduced the disparity.

“We’re now eight years later, and it hasn’t been addressed again,” Sterling said.

But Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation sees the Collins bill as “a good first step.” He hopes reformers don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.

Over the last decade, Cohen said, Texas officials concentrated on strengthening treatment and re-entry programs for offenders — and it worked. The number of state inmates declined.

Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is leaving her perch in Austin to push for reforms nationwide. And she’s going to work for Kushner.

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

News Videos
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Mylar Balloon Demo
NV Energy presented a demonstration Wednesday to depict the damage that can be caused by the release of Mylar balloons.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing