President Trump is publicly pressing for prison reform while his administration privately works on an agreement with Congress that would overhaul a bigger swath of the criminal justice system but may rile tough-on-crime conservatives.
Trump hosted a roundtable Thursday with governors, state attorneys general and Cabinet officials on prison reform during his 11-day working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. It’s the second week in a row in which Trump has held meetings on the issue.
Behind the scenes, the administration and congressional officials are crafting an agreement that would add significant changes in the nation’s mandatory sentencing laws to a widely popular prison reform bill that passed the House earlier this year, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.
During Thursday’s roundtable, Trump said the administration was working to “refine” the House-backed measure in the Senate.
“I have to say, we have tremendous political support. It surprises me. I thought that when we started this journey about a year ago, I thought we would not have a lot of political support,” Trump said, flanked by the state officials and some of his top aides. “People I would least suspect are behind it, 100 percent.”
The deal in progress would add four provisions overhauling the sentencing system — legislation written by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and backed by a broad coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans — to the House bill, which does not touch sentencing laws but focuses on reducing recidivism among prisoners, the officials said.
“We had a great meeting with President Trump on criminal justice reform,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the key Republicans behind the Senate bill, told The Washington Post last week. “I think we’ve made some meaningful progress.”
Under the agreement in the works, the new package would include provisions from the Senate bill that lowers mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies, including reducing the “three-strike” penalty from life behind bars to 25 years. The Senate bill allows these reductions to apply retroactively, but that would not be the case under the tentative compromise, the officials said.
It would also include Senate language that retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. One of the officials said this applies to only about 2,000 people.
The deal also would reduce mandatory minimum sentences that go into effect when a firearm is used during a violent crime or a drug offense. Although this provision also can be applied retroactively, the tentative deal would not.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Seung Min Kim