Thursday, 24 May 2018

Rare Bipartisan Co-Operation

No Rednecks Here

There are some proposals for prison reform in the US which are bipartisan and have begun making their way through the legislature.
With a prison reform bill working its way through Congress, President Donald Trump gave the effort a significant boost Friday by asking Congress to get a bill attacking the issue to his desk, The Hill reported.  The First Step Act recently made it through the House Judiciary Committee last week with a 25-to-5 vote.  “There is no substitute for personal accountability and there is no tolerance for those who take advantage of society’s generosity to prey upon the innocent,” Trump said. “But if we want more prisoners to take charge of their own lives, then we should work to give them the tools to stand on their own two feet.”  [The Blaze]
This sort of thing rarely gets huge press coverage.  It's too boring.  It lacks sensational punch, so is often overlooked.  On the other hand, there are have been lots of similar or related proposals in the US over the years.  What's in this one?
The House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that is referred to as the First Step Act. The full title is the “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.”  . . . .

The bill seeks to reduce the recidivism rate by improving conditions and development opportunities for inmates in federal prisons, allowing them the chance to be job-ready upon their release and lowering the chances that they fall back into the same criminal lifestyle that caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.
Here are some of the main goals of the bill, according to #cut50: Ban the shackling of women during childbirth and provide sanitary napkins and tampons at no charge.   Increase the number of “Good Time Credit” days prisoners can earn per year.   Accelerate transitions from prison into halfway homes or home confinement when possible.   Require the Bureau of Prisons to place incarcerated people within 500 driving miles of their families.   Allow formerly incarcerated people to serve as volunteers and mentors.   Expand compassionate release for the elderly and terminally ill.
The Bill has bi-partisan support.  It is a Republican initiative, but has garnered approval from some  Democrats as well.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), and has 12 co-sponsors including members of both parties, including Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

Jared Kushner, senior adviser and son-in-law to President Trump, has thrown his support behind the bill, motivated at least in part by personal experience: His father, Charles, spent two years in federal prison, released in 2006.  “This is an issue I had personal experience with, so I spent some time thinking, from the White House, what can be done,” Kushner said Friday at a White House event that included a discussion moderated by CNN commentator Van Jones, the founder of #cut50’s parent organization DreamCorps. 
To have the discussion moderated by Van Jones--extreme Left, arch Trump critic--is itself indicative of bi-partisanship.

It turns out that (Republican) Texas has been acting as the bird dog on this issue: 
“We support sentencing reform,” Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director and co-founder of DreamCorps’ #cut50 initiative, told TheBlaze.   “But the political realities of the moment make it so that we need to do this in two steps. First, we need to address the fact that our prison system is supposed to be rehabilitative, but yet people are coming out and 74 percent of them are ending up right back inside.”

“We’ve seen Texas take quite a few of these actions, and actually close prison beds, and while they were doing so, crime actually decreased in the state,” Sloan told TheBlaze. “They had addressed some of the serious problems around reentry that were getting in the way of people coming home and succeeding.  “It is the red states that are leading the way,” Sloan said.
Ironically it was lack of public money and the need for spending constraints, that first led Republican states to reduce the prison muster.
Alex Gudich, deputy director of #cut50, said Republican states’ leadership on prison reform dates back to the Great Recession in 2008, when governors were forced to look at the cost of their prisons and make some changes.  “The number two or three line item on many of these governors’ budgets was this exploded prison system,” Gudich told TheBlaze. “[Former Texas Gov.] Rick Perry faced this decision, he said ‘I’ve got billions of dollars in costs, and I’ve got crime on the rise, is there any way we can reduce this?’

Over the last 10 years, Texas has been able to save money, close prisons, and reduce crime by implementing some of these reforms,” Gudich said.  Sloan also cited similar results in Louisiana and Kentucky.
This is exactly the pinch being felt now in New Zealand, as prisoner numbers rise sharply and the costs of prison expansion bite.  This has led to calls for a "better way".  So far, the policy vision appears hopelessly naive and one-dimensional. 

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