Trump the criminal justice reformer

Efforts to reform the US criminal justice system have been characterized by an alliance of unlikely bedfellows, with liberal groups like the ACLU joining with Right on Crime, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers, and others to push for a turn away from the tough-on-crime policies of the 1970s and ‘80s. The movement can now claim one of its most unlikely champions: Donald Trump.

The president campaigned on a relentlessly tough-on-crime platform. He urged police to engage in a bit of street justice and not show too much restraint in their handling of suspects under arrest for violent crimes. He spoke of a dark, crime-ridden era of “American carnage” that had devastated US cities, one that would come to a miraculous end with his inauguration.

But yesterday Trump was hailing the Senate’s passage, by a wide bipartisan margin, of the most sweeping reform of federal criminal justice laws in decades. The First Step Act, which must still clear the House, would modify some mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, allow inmates to reduce the length of sentences by taking part in prison programs, and retroactively even out sentencing disparities between crack cocaine crimes and those involving powder cocaine, which exacted a particularly harsh toll in minority communities.

“We’re all better off when former inmates can receive and re-enter society as law-abiding, productive citizens,” Trump said last month when he declared his support for the federal bill.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supported the legislation after refusing to allow a vote on a similar Obama-backed bill in the runup to the 2016 election, earned rare praise in a Globe editorial today.

The reforms would only affect federal prisons, which hold just 10 percent of the 2.1 million inmates in US prisons. But reform advocates hope the bill serves an important start — a “tone-setter,” says the Globe — for further federal reforms while also encouraging more changes at the state and local level, where the biggest impact on incarceration rates can be made. Some of the bill’s provisions echo elements of criminal justice legislation enacted earlier this year on Beacon Hill.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner played a big role in pushing the measure forward, even making a rare TV appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program to argue the case. Osita Nwanevu writes in The New Yorker that some of the strongest reform advocates have personal connections to the criminal justice system, and points out that Kushner’s father spent more than a year in federal prison, in 2005, for a white collar crime. Nwanevu also flags a 2016 story by fellow New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, in which Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden said charges filed against the company in 2000 alleging that it hid carcinogenic emissions from federal regulators — “a huge overreach, a grave injustice” — spurred the Koch interest in the criminal justice issues.

“We were very skeptical, going forward, of criminal prosecutors having too much power,” Holden told her. “So we got involved in criminal-justice reform.”

Against that backdrop, with Trump facing multiple investigations that could put him in political or legal jeopardy and tweeting almost daily about special counsel Robert Mueller’s corrupt “WITCH HUNT,” maybe it’s not surprising at all to see him suddenly embrace the idea of reining in the reach of prosecutors.

“America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes,” he tweeted yesterday after Senate passage of the bill.

–MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

Mike Kennealy, an assistant secretary to Jay Ash at housing and economic development, is moving up to the top job as Ash moves into the private sector. (State House News)

The state is issuing new, gender-neutral parentage forms. (WGBH)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Fall River city council voted unanimously to give Mayor Jasiel Correia, who is under federal indictment on fraud charges, five days to resign or face a recall election. (Herald News)

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell says Boston’s opportunity zones are a missed opportunity. (WGBH)

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno vetoes an ordinance designating the city as a “welcoming community” to immigrants. (MassLive)

Quincy Mayor Tom Koch says he won’t sign — or veto — a city council-passed ordinance creating a LGBTQ commission, which will now be formed without his endorsement. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump has agreed to shut down his personal charity amid allegations by New York’s attorney general that he has used the foundation’s money for personal and political gain. (Washington Post)

Rep. Jim McGovern said House Democrats should hold off — at least for now — on any talk of impeachment. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Joe Battenfeld says Auburn businessman Brent Anderson, a Charlie Baker ally, has the votes to become chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. (Boston Herald)

Fifty-two percent of Americans, including a majority of independents, say they are against the country becoming more “politically correct,” according to a new poll. (WBUR)

After losing his bid for a seat in Congress, Dan Koh says he will run for a selectman’s post in Andover. (Eagle-Tribune)

Frank Bruni helpfully urges skepticism of all the heavy-breathing polls on who’s up and who’s down in the 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes, pointing out they probably say very little about who will be the nominee. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Facebook gave other huge tech companies access to loads of users’ information, including allowing some firms to read private messages sent on its platform. (New York Times)

Municipal leaders that are welcoming marijuana shops gathered for a panel discussion in Boston, with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse saying he wants his community to go from being the “Paper City” to the “rolling paper city,” a nod to its paper-mill past. (Boston Globe) Pot store opponents in some communities are pointing to traffic jams in Leicester, where one of the state’s first two stores opened, is explaining their objections, but the backups have already eased in the Worcester County town. (Boston Globe)

Prime target: A beloved Avon toy store will close down for good on Christmas Eve, a victim of  Amazon and other online sellers. (Enterprise News)

EDUCATION

MassDevelopment awards $132 million in tax-exempt bond money for a new dorm at UMass Dartmouth that will be built and operated by a public-private consortium and then revert to the school once the consortium’s ground lease expires. (South Coast Today)

Students, teachers, and parents from Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury rallied yesterday to protest dirty syringes that litter the school grounds, a health threat they say the city has not done enough to address. (Boston Globe)

Three complaints have been filed alleging that the Greater Fall River Regional Vocational School Committee violated open meeting laws in its move to not renew the contract of Thomas Aubin as superintendent-director of Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School. (Herald News)

ARTS/CREATIVITY

New Bedford unveils an arts and culture plan and $50,000 in “Wicked Cool Places” grants to 12 groups. (South Coast Today)

Boston awards GrubStreet, a nonprofit dedicated to creative writing, a below-market lease in the Seaport District. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

CRRC, the Chinese company building new rail cars for the Red and Orange Lines, says its success depends on easing trade tensions between the US and China. Tariffs imposed on Chinese imports could drive up the price of the rail cars, which are assembled in Springfield. The company is seeking an exemption from the tariffs. (MassLive)

A Boston Herald editorial says the MBTA should find a way to renew its successful weekend commuter rail pass program.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack launches a year-long study of east-west rail travel by warning all involved that the project faces a lot of hurdles. (Berkshire Eagle)

Paratransit drivers for the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority end their two-week strike. (Berkshire Eagle)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

As expected, Massachusetts joined eight other states and the District of Columbia in an effort to put a price on carbon in transportation fuels and use the proceeds to invest in transit, electric vehicles, bike lanes, and other low-emitting transportation technologies. (CommonWealth)

A Lawrence mother whose family is still unable to return to their home is lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against Columbia Gas over the explosions that rocked the Merrimack Valley in September. (Boston Herald)

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rep. Thomas Golden, in a Herald op-ed, tout the role Massachusetts legislation played in setting the stage for last week’s federal auction of offshore wind energy development rights.