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Trump urges Congress to overhaul sentencing laws

President Donald Trump speaks about the "First Step

President Donald Trump speaks about the "First Step Act," which would reform America's prison system, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged Congressional leaders to provide before the end of the year criminal justice legislation to ease some prison sentences and expand programs to prevent recidivism.

In a White House event on Wednesday, Trump announced his support for the bipartisan measure called “The First Step Act,” a substantial overhaul of the more than $1 trillion system.

“We are all better off when former inmates can re-enter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. And thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they’ve ever had before,” Trump said during afternoon remarks in the Roosevelt Room.

Trump said the new bill would: provide low-risk inmates the skills they need to find employment, including educational and vocational training and faith-based programs; place federal inmates closer to their home community to facilitate family visitation, and loosen sentencing laws for nonviolent and low-level offenses.

“In other words, we are treating people differently for different crimes,” Trump said.

The legislation has the support of both prison advocates and law enforcement groups. During the event, Trump said he was surprised the bill had the backing of “even the toughest law enforcement officers.”

He also said more than 2,000 faith leaders have pledged their support.

Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the country’s largest law enforcement labor organizations, said the bill would make neighborhoods safer while improving the ability for the criminal justice system to effectively rehabilitate offenders.

“By individually targeting those offenders with the lowest risk to reoffend, law enforcement and corrections officers can better focus their resources,” Canterbury said in a statement on Friday.

Canterbury added that the group made sure that “truly dangerous offenders, like those who commit crimes while armed and those who traffic in deadly narcotics like fentanyl, are ineligible to participate in the First Step program.”

Families Against Mandatory Minimums, or FAMM, a criminal justice reform advocacy group based in Washington, also praised Trump’s efforts in helping to get the legislation passed by the end of the year.

FAMM President Kevin Ring said the bill will keep more families together and strengthen communities while reforming “some of the most punitive and unjust mandatory minimum sentencing laws and invests in proven rehabilitative programs.”

Ring said Trump’s “tough rhetoric — from speaking out against “American carnage” to favoring the execution of drug dealers — might just have made him the best person to deliver reform of our harsh and counterproductive federal sentencing laws.”

Prison reform has been a policy priority of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who reportedly persuaded the president to back the bill and its passage before Congress changes hands in January.

Trump thanked Kushner, who attended the Wednesday event.

The president urged both Republicans and Democrats to complete the compromise and deliver a bill for him to sign.

“I’ll be waiting with a pen,” Trump said. “We will have done something that hasn’t been done in many, many years . . . And it’s the right thing to do.”


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