Last year, liberal and conservative criminal justice reformers agreed to back a modest proposal to relax some mandatory minimum sentences. The plan died, and “so did some of the spirit of common cause,” report The Marshall Project and The New Yorker. As the presidential election campaign ended, “the alliance started to come undone.” Since President Trump took office, the strain on the coalition has intensified. Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union Foundation says the movement should turn its attention to the states, where most criminal justice is dispensed.
Groups from the right and left still meet monthly at the Heritage Foundation, but momentum has been hard to regain. “Hurt feelings are impacting meaningful discussion,” said the foundation’s John Malcolm. Many believe that the prospects for reform at the federal level now depend largely on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, who has added criminal justice to his thick portfolio. Kushner’s father spent two years in federal prison on various white-collar charges. The only notable federal criminal justice measures showing signs of life would only create more opportunities to put people in prison or to hand out longer sentences, such as a bill that would allow probation officers to arrest anyone who interferes with their work. Given this inhospitable climate, Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said that perhaps the best course for reformers is to hope for “benign neglect” from the Trump administration.