Donald Trump has changed the national discourse as no president before him, and it is devoutly to be wished, more than anyone in the future ever will. We are beyond numb, we are shell shocked. We suffer from Post Trumpatic Stress Syndrome. Ergo, what would under any normal circumstance be banner headlines, ‘Prison Reform Is The Bailiwick Of Jared Kushner and Kim Kardashian, Bwahahahahahahaha!’ merits hardly a nod. Be that as it may, double your Ambien dosage, wash it down with a beer, and grow new nerve endings, because we have to take a look at this.
The back story is that Jared’s father, Charles, had to go make wallets in Alabama for a few months, after pleading guilty to income tax evasion and witness tampering charges, the latter exacted because Kushner decided to take revenge on his brother-in-law by plotting a tryst with a prostitute in a seedy New Jersey motel room rigged for both audio and video and then sending the tape to his sister. Terrific chap, Charles. From this inauspicious and improbable beginning, Jared Kushner took an interest in prison reform. Seriously. Vanity Fair:
The experience left an indelible mark on the young Kushner who, for years, carried a wallet his father made for him in prison; when he joined the White House as senior adviser, he vowed to help improve the system that his father had come through. And so, while other initiatives in his once-dizzying portfolio have fallen by the wayside, Kushner has made significant progress in getting Republican lawmakers on board with the effort, bringing law enforcement officials and Evangelical leaders to the White House, taking meetings on Capitol Hill, and hosting dinner parties with key Washington power players at the home he shares with his wife, Ivanka Trump. He pushed Congress to support a bipartisan bill known as the First Step Act, which aims to better prepare inmates to re-enter society by incentivizing participation in job-training and drug-treatment programs, and which would also give nonviolent offenders more options to serve the ends of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. (Kushner’s father left prison 10 months early, and finished his two-year sentence at a halfway house in Newark, New Jersey.)
Kushner’s First Step Act allows inmates to get out earlier for good behavior, as Kushner’s father did, but it does nothing to address the core causes of mass incarceration, and, you won’t find this surprising, the bill actually favors white collar criminals like Jared’s father while discriminating against the rest of the inmate population, based on race and class. Vox:
Not every inmate benefits from all the changes. The system would use an algorithm to initially determine who can cash in earned time credits, with inmates deemed higher risk excluded from cashing in although not from earning the credits (which they could then cash in if their risk level is reduced).
But algorithms can perpetuate racial and class discrimination; for instance, an algorithm that excludes someone from earning credits due to previous criminal history may overlook that black and poor people are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes even when they’re not more likely to actually commit those crimes.
In a letter to lawmakers, the advocacy group Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which typically backs criminal justice reform, wrote that the algorithm risks “embedding deep racial and class bias into decisions that heavily impact the lives and futures of federal prisoners and their families.” […]
The bill also excludes certain inmates from earning credits entirely, including undocumented immigrants and people who are convicted of high-level offenses. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights criticized this too, arguing that “excluding entire groups of people from receiving early-release credits will undermine efforts to reduce prison overcrowding and improve public safety since such exclusions weaken the incentive to participate in recidivism-reduction programming.”
Not only would the bill exclude entire groups of people, it would do nothing to affect the plight of the most abused and numerous group of all, the low-level offenders. Why? Because Jeff Sessions said so.
What the bill won’t do, though, is reduce or limit mandatory minimum sentences for drugs or other offenses. That’s in large part because the Trump administration, particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions, really oppose anything that actually reduces prison sentences.
As a senator, Sessions blocked a previous criminal justice reform bill in large part because it would have effectively reduced prison sentences for some low-level offenses. As attorney general, Sessions characterized a bill that would reform mandatory minimums as “a grave error” — effectively killing the legislation.
So that’s the toothless bill that Kushner is championing, and maybe weak tea is better than none, it can be argued. And how did the High Priestess of Reality Television, Kim Kardashian, get on board? Well, her husband, Kanye West likes Trump, and somebody told her on social media about a 62 year old great-grandmother serving a life sentence without parole on a first time drug offense. So Kim is playing saint. Voila.
Kardashian, a more recent prison reform evangelist…will not be bringing the camera crew for her reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, nor will she bring a publicist or her sisters, according to the person familiar with the situation. (Her husband, Kanye West, who recently tweeted a photo of his red Make America Great Again hat, will not be present either, though there have been talks about him making a White House appearance of his own at a later, to-be-determined date.) Instead, Kardashian hopes to make a legal argument to President Trump for why he should pardon Alice Johnson, a 62-year-old great-grandmother serving a life sentence without parole for a first-time drug offense. More than 21 years after Johnson went to prison, Kardashian came across Johnson’s story on Twitter earlier this year and reached out to Ivanka, who connected her to Kushner, according to the source. In an interview earlier this month, Kardashian said that, if given the opportunity, she would “explain to [Trump] that, just like everybody else, we can make choices in our lives that we’re not proud of and that we don’t think through all the way.”
Kardashian’s entreaties to Trump might work. After all, Sylvester Stallone was able to convince him to pardon boxer Jack Johnson, which some critics have said proves nothing except that the only black person Trump is willing to extend a favor to is a dead one, and then only for the purpose of glorifying himself. Cynical but all too true.
The Kushner-Kardashian summit is yet another farce in an orgy of absurdity the likes of which the world has never seen. Caligula himself is beginning to look circumspect alongside the likes of Trump and his never ending gaggle of grotesque groupies, waltzing in and out of the White House, all puffed up with self importance and playing government. The situation with prison reform would be the stuff of high comedy but for the fact that it, like the opioid epidemic and so many other issues within this mal-administration, is being tragically neglected; and people are still getting hurt, with no relief in sight.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.