The U.S. has a huge number of prisoners currently incarcerated. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,220,300 adults were in prison in 2013 — the highest rate in the world. In the past, any efforts related to criminal justice reform revolved around the amount of time a convicted felon would spend in jail, especially in terms of mandatory minimum sentencing. Now, the focus is on preventing those felons from returning to prison. This approach may win bilateral consensus from Congress.
The White House has championed federal prison reform and efforts to give prisoners second chances with the goal being to save taxpayer money and reduce crime. President Trump, along with his son-in-law, Senior Advisor to the President and White House Innovations Director, Jared Kushner, met with lawmakers and prison reform advocates. He also included this goal in his State of the Union address.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced a prison reform bill, called the Prison Reform and Redemption Act. It is expected that the House Judiciary Committee will review it before the first quarter ends. The bill, which lets prisoners be in halfway houses or house arrest instead of prison at the end of their sentences, is co-sponsored by seven Republicans and eight Democrats. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced another bill.
Federal prisoners must participate in and complete certain programs while in prison that are proven to increase anti-recidivism efforts. These programs can include training for vocational skills, drug treatment, or life skills training and education. They are also much less expensive than spending the resources on reprosecuting and incarcerating someone multiple times and teaches inmates how to successfully re-enter society and be self-sufficient. Upon completion, they will earn time credits.
“Focusing on prison reform as a piece of criminal justice makes sense,” said Brian Leifert, partner in the law firm, Leifert & Leifert. “Keeping our communities safe should be the number one priority, and passing this legislation would be a huge step in that direction.”
We will wait and see how criminal justice reform will play out and whether Attorney General Sessions will continue to tout his hardline policies to seek tougher sentences and support the privatization of prisons, which seem to be at odds with the president’s stance.