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White House Official on #FirstStepAct: ‘Heart of This Legislation is About Recidivism Reduction’

As Congress continues to debate the First Step Act, bipartisan legislation that would ease some federal prison sentencing guidelines, a White House official told Bold TV that the proposal’s major thrust is to prevent prisoners who served their time from re-entering.

“Under this president’s leadership, we’ve committed to working with all walks in order to do something that create safer communities, make our criminal justice system fairer and then allowing people to get a second chance,” Ja’Ron Smith, special assistant to the President for legislative affairs, told Bold TV. “And so the heart of this legislation is about recidivism reduction. We know that almost 70 percent of the people who are in a federal prison system are repeat offenders, and we think in order to create safer communities, we need to reduce recidivism reduction [sic] while allowing to take it far enough, to take an individualized approach towards dealing with people’s risk, recidivism risk. So the First Step Act what it does is create some incentives that would encourage more people to participate in recidivism reduction programming, which we think will help create safer communities and give people second chances.”

Smith said by focusing on non-violent criminals (who generally have better records of assimilating back into society than violent criminals) under the proposed legislation, the reforms will ensure public safety is maintained while also allowing people a stronger chance to rebuild their lives.

These are individuals who may have been locked up but don’t have direct victims who may have lost life or were murdered or were harmed from the act of the crime and so on,” Smith said. “We’re trying to look at the Alice Johnsons of the prison system and then allow for them to get a second chance instead of locking individuals like that up and throwing away the key first. Fortunately, Alice Johnson was afforded a second chance and she’s on a path to be a very productive citizen and a healer in her community and also reconnecting her with her family and, being a millennial, and there’s a lot of families who have lost a parent on to the criminal justice system and so we’re trying to bring back fairness and create better communities.”

Smith responded to criticism from some conservatives, including black conservatives like Stacy Washington, and Bold Contributor Constable Council Nedd II at the Project 21 Black Leadership Network, that the law would make minority communities unsafer.

“There’s some misinformation about the merits of what this bill does and what it doesn’t do,” Smith said. “What it doesn’t do is release a whole bunch of violent offenders and what it does do is incentivize people to earn their ability throughout the BOP [Bureau Of Prisons] to prove that they can be productive citizens. I would say opponents who think the status quo and high recidivism rates is the key to keeping people safe they’re drastically misunderstanding what’s currently going on. You have many families and many neighborhoods that still have high crime since the 80s and the result of it is because people are growing out without their parents. People are growing up in the households where mothers and fathers aren’t around because we’ve taken such a hard approach towards criminal justice reform.”

Smith acknowledged that the vast majority of prisoners are actually held at the state and local levels, rather than the federal level, but he said he hoped federal reforms would lead to positive downstream changes.

“The last time that the federal government did prison reform or criminal justice reform at this magnitude, it encouraged some of the states to reform their systems,” Smith said. “We saw reforms in Texas, reform in Kentucky and Georgia that has reduced crime and also closed prisons because they put in a system in place that reduced recidivism reduction. So we think impact the First Step Act will also encourage other states to do something similar.”

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