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Trump urges Congress to overhaul nation’s prison system

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh / AP)
President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh / AP)
By Ken Thomas Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday urged Congress to overhaul the nation’s prison system and help more former inmates re-enter society, hoping to jump-start legislation that’s facing fresh opposition from Democrats.

Trump said at a White House forum that a prison overhaul “unites people from across the political spectrum” and that lawmakers need to “work out their differences, get a bill to my desk – I will sign it.”

“It’s going to be strong, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be what everybody wants,” Trump said, pointing to bipartisan support for the changes. “You’re all in line, I think. You’re all looking for the same thing.”

But five influential Democrats have announced their opposition to a House bill supported by the White House, saying the approach would “be a step backward” because it is flawed and doesn’t cover changes to federal sentencing guidelines.

Their opposition raises questions about whether the bill could pass in a Congress run by Republicans, who hold a slim Senate majority. The White House has expressed hopes of winning approval ahead of the fall elections.

Trump has pushed for a plan that focuses on helping facilitate released prisoners’ re-entry into society, as well as better developing their skills in prison and improving rehabilitation services.

The president convened a group of governors, faith-based leaders and experts in January to talk about finding ways of bringing job training, mentoring and drug addiction treatment to the nation’s prison population.

A bill pushed by Reps. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week and may be considered by the full House as early as next week.

But some Democrats, along with influential groups such as the NAACP and ACLU, want the bill to include changes to sentencing guidelines, which Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have opposed.

In a letter released Thursday, the Democrats said the bill would exclude too many people who are incarcerated, provide inadequate money for the plan and fail to reduce recidivism. It was signed by Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California along with Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has led the White House efforts to develop the criminal justice policy, including changes to the prison system. During Friday’s event, Kushner said he “had personal experience with” the issue. That was a reference to his father, Charles Kushner, who served a year in federal prison for illegal political contributions and tax evasion.

“The single biggest thing that we want to do is really define what the purpose of a prison is,” Kushner said. “Is the purpose to punish, is the purpose to warehouse or is the purpose to rehabilitate?”

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