White House Hosts Summit on Prison Reform
On May 18th, the White House hosted a Prison Reform Summit. During the summit, both President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence spoke about the importance of prisoner reentry. The summit took place a few weeks after the U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act (H.R. 5682) via a 25-5 vote. This measure would provide for better reentry programs in federal prisons, which would allow ex-offenders to lead successful, fulfilling lives after their time in prison. These would include programs concerning job training, drug treatment, and mental health. Trump noted that the bill would “restore the rule of law, keep dangerous criminals off our street, and help inmates get a second chance on life.”
The President further noted the importance of individuals who have committed crimes to take responsibility for their actions, but also spoke of the importance of more prisoners taking charge of their own lives by giving “them the tools to stand on their own two feet.” If the FIRST STEP Act passes in Congress, the President indicated that he will sign the bill into law. The measure is supported by numerous organizations and individuals along the ideological spectrum, including the American Conservative Union, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks, CNN Commentator Van Jones, and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC).
In introductory remarks, Vice-President Pence said the current prison system “too often” botches an opportunity to help improve the lives of individuals, and instead just makes American communities more dangerous. “Prison reform is about changing lives, and about changing communities,” Pence said. The Vice-President further stated the Trump administration will continue to hold accountable those who break the law, but also recognizes that too many ex-offenders feel they have no economic opportunities once they are released and are therefore more likely to return to crime.
Other speakers at the summit included Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who led Texas’ own prison reform efforts during his tenure as governor. “This may be the issue of our generation.” As a result of Texas’ reform, both the incarceration rate and the crime rate have declined in the state. This is due to reentry programs reducing recidivism rates and making communities safer.
The ALEC model Resolution in Support of Reentry Programs lists several reasons for the importance of reentry initiatives. Some of these reasons are that the creation and implementation of reentry policies improve public safety, lower recidivism rates, and offer former prisoners second chances. Ultimately, around 96% of offenders will be released from prison and back into their communities. Certainly, criminals ought to be punished for their actions; however, they should also be permitted the opportunity to be productive members of society after they have served their entire sentence. Hence, our elected officials at all levels of government should place a high premium on public safety and allow prisoners the chance to participate in reentry programs. This participation will help ensure that they do not commit new crimes after they have been released from prison.