After eight years of President Barack Obama's unfulfilled promises, President Trump may ultimately sign comprehensive criminal justice reform into law. That is, if Democratic 2020 hopefuls don't stop him.
The FIRST STEP Act, passed by the House in May, reforms prison policies to reduce recidivism, enhance the self-sufficiency of prisoners following their release, and ultimately reduce the incarcerated population. In addition to the bill's core rehabilitation and credits program — which would allow willing prisoners to participate in vocational and rehabilitative programs to either better prepare for post-prison life or even shorten their sentences, the bill also makes obvious reforms such as abolishing the use of handcuffs on pregnant inmates.
All the stars, it seems, have aligned. Liberals, libertarian, and progressives can finally move forward on the Herculean task of enacting comprehensive prison reform, and many Republicans are finally on board. In a dramatic about-face facilitated by persuasion from Jared Kushner — and perhaps Kim Kardashian and Kanye West — Trump now says that he will overrule Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he opposes the Act.
But Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who are definitely, absolutely not running for president, may stand in the way of this once in a generation opportunity. In a nonsensical, 4-page collection of various fallacies, Booker and Harris, along with Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee, explain why they refuse to support the FIRST START Act.
For instance, the bill provides that prisoners at low risk of recidivism can earn credits toward early release. Booker and friends are furious that higher-risk inmates are not afforded the same leeway.
"These provisions set an unreasonably high bar and give far too much discretion to the Trump Administration's BOP," the authors wrote. Ironically, in another part of the letter, the Democrats use that very same BOP as an authority to be trusted fully.
Further, they claim that prisoners potentially securing earlier release dates through voluntary participation in rehabilitation programs could be racist. Yes, they lament that the risk assessment that qualifies prisoners to apply their credits earned through programs to an earlier release date relies on evaluating "criminal history" and "dynamic factors, including work history and educational achievement, that tend to correlate with socioeconomic class and race."
Kamala and company say they are "unwilling" to support prison reform without first addressing sentencing reform. But they know sentencing reform can't pass. So do these Democrats really want any prison reform? Or is denying Trump a win more important?
Politicos ranging from former Obama adviser Van Jones to former Sen. Jim DeMint have vociferously advocated for the bill. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are on board. The country seems uniquely positioned to finally pass some common-sense reform. But two of the most ambitious Democratic senators stand in its way. They've made it clear, they won't pass a viable prison reform bill, even if it could free thousands. At least, not until the Harris or Booker administration begins.