As President Trump talked at the White House on Friday about the “crucial issue” of prison reform and promoted a prison bill pending in Congress, a cadre of powerful Democrats stepped up their opposition campaign by issuing a five-page opposition letter attempting to stamp out momentum for the proposal before it hits the House floor next week, Politico reports. The Democrats describe the bill as a “step backwards,” in the latest volley in an ongoing battle over how far Congress should go this year to overhaul the federal prison system. The legislation is backed by the White House and could be the last real chance for a bipartisan success — no easy feat in a contentious election year. It has several key opponents, particularly in the Senate.
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one of the most influential members of the House Democratic Caucus, signed on to the letter. Among other Democratic signers: Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. They contend that the “First Step Act,” which would provide training programs for prisoners that are aimed at reducing repeat offenses, could actually have the opposite effect by putting in place policies that are more discriminatory toward inmates of color. The criminal justice battle has been brewing for months, with unexpected allies joining together on both sides of the issue. In one camp are House and Senate Republican leaders, President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and influential conservatives, including the Koch brothers, all backing the prison reform push. Separately, the Society for Human Resource Management and the Charles Koch Institute released a survey reporting that more than 80 percent of managers and human resource professionals nationwide said they were open to hiring people with criminal records.
Trump on Friday called it a “waste of human capital” when former prisoners are unable to find work. He said ex-inmates can be “outstanding” employees. He said, “America believes in the power of redemption and second chances and maybe even fourth chances,” adding that he hoped that whatever prison reform results “will be the best of its kind anywhere in the world.”