LOS ANGELES — Anyone who reads this column knows that I am not a Trumper; but as I always say, “A stopped clock is right twice a day.”
Under the guidance of son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Trump administration began the “First Step Act” as a way of making sure people can get a job and be contributing members of society when they’re ready to leave prison. Much can be said about why Mr. Kushner developed the First Step Act. His father was in federal prison for 14 months and I am sure that contributed to his passion on this issue.
This week we learned from the Washington Examiner (not exactly a liberal newspaper) what Jared Kushner had done. They reported how Mr. Kushner had actually called the first woman freed under “The First Step Act” to get her a job.
The Examiner article stated:: “Catherine Toney began February in prison and ended the month with a job at Walmart after White House adviser Jared Kushner called the Arkansas-based retailer on her behalf. Toney, 55, is believed to be the first woman freed by the FIRST STEP Act, which President Trump signed in December. She was released Feb. 1 after serving 16 years, benefiting from the law’s retroactive crack cocaine sentence reductions.
“Toney will join Trump on Monday for an event celebrating the criminal justice reform law, his first major bipartisan policy achievement. … Toney met Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an architect of the reform law, on Feb. 21 when she attended a White House Black History Month event. Kushner asked about Toney’s plans, and she said she wanted to work at the Walmart in Daphne, Ala. He volunteered to call Walmart for her, according to Toney and two others in the room. ‘He promised me he was going to do it,’ Toney said. One day later, she got a call from a woman named Becky at Walmart’s corporate office, saying that Kushner had called, and that the company wanted to help.
“‘She had someone from Walmart meet me at Starbucks to do the application. In prison, I had no clue how to properly work a computer,’ Toney said. ‘I’m at Walmart doing orientation today. [Kushner] made that possible.’
“Jessica Jackson, national director of the prison reform group #cut50, said Toney is part of a bigger-picture effort by Kushner to enlist businesses to hire formerly incarcerated people, including by helping reduce re-entry barriers, such as poor Internet literacy. ‘Catherine is a test case’ for the retail giant, said Jackson, whose group offered Toney a temporary contract job, before she landed the Walmart position, to help her buy a car.
“Amy Povah, the founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, said that despite criticism, the FIRST STEP Act ‘has actually exceeded some expectations,’ particularly with compassionate releases for elderly or ailing inmates. Still, Povah advocates for Trump to supplement the law with more grants of clemency to prisoners.
“Monday’s events at the White House will feature a ‘strategy session’ on how to move forward on reforms, a workforce re-entry event with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, and an afternoon celebration with Trump.”
Kushner is not the only one from the conservative side that is advocating for criminal justice reform.
The Acadina Advocate published what they are doing and planning in Louisiana.
‘It’s the only way we’re going to stop this cycle,’ said Scott Peyton, Louisiana director of Right on Crime. … ‘With the reforms from 2017, we’re trying to put services together on the front end to put employers in touch with qualified people who are on probation or parole.’
“Peyton is referring to Louisiana’s historic criminal justice reforms that resulted in a 20 percent decrease in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes and a 42 percent decrease in those sent to prison for drug possession, according to a 2018 state performance report.”
The First Step was bi-partisan in the making, and this bill will provide funding for expanding prison programs. It needs to be done, as the U.S. Sentencing Commission put out a report in 2016 that said about half of inmates released from a federal prison in 2005 were arrested again within eight years of their initial release. One-third of those were re-convicted. That is an amazing statistic for someone/something that is supposed to be a “correctional institution.”
The First Step Act is really an answer to the non-working correctional program.