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Trump Slams ‘Very Unfair’ Drug Sentences

The president’s comments could improve the prospects for federal penal reform.

Kanye West's literal embrace of Donald Trump was all over the news last week. The president's rhetorical embrace of criminal justice reform got considerably less attention but may prove more consequential.

In an interview with Fox News on the morning of his meeting with the rap impresario, Trump signaled that he was ready to go beyond "back end" reform, which focuses on rehabilitation of inmates, and support "front end" reform, which focuses on reducing sentences and sending fewer people to prison. The key to understanding Trump's remarks is Alice Marie Johnson, whose sentence the president commuted in June at the behest of West's wife, Kim Kardashian.

Johnson, a first-time offender who received a life sentence in 1996 for participating in a Memphis cocaine trafficking organization, has described herself as "a telephone mule, passing messages between the distributors and sellers." While serving nearly 22 years in federal prison, she became a grandmother and great-grandmother, an ordained minister, and a mentor to other inmates.

Although it took the intercession of a fellow reality TV star for Trump to free Johnson, he clearly was impressed by her story. More important, he recognizes that Johnson, whom he calls "the most incredible woman," is not unique in receiving an absurdly disproportionate sentence for a nonviolent crime.

"You have many people like Mrs. Johnson," Trump said on Fox News. "There are people in jail for really long terms."

Notably, Trump did not say the solution is more commutations, although those would certainly be welcome. "There has to be a reform, because it's very unfair right now," he said. "It's very unfair to African-Americans. It's very unfair to everybody."

Trump had high praise for criminal justice reforms in Texas and Georgia, which in recent years have seen falling crime rates even as they reduced their prison populations. "They really have done a tremendous job with reform," he said.

These comments, which may seem surprising from a man who has consciously cultivated a tough-on-crime image, reflect the influence of people Trump respects, people like his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a supporter of the conservative reform organization Right on Crime. And yes, people like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

That influence could be crucial in the ongoing debate about federal sentencing reform. Last May the House overwhelmingly approved the FIRST STEP Act, a collection of modest prison reforms aimed at reducing recidivism and promoting reintegration. The bill is on hold in the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is demanding that it include sentencing reforms as well.

The latest proposal would incorporate into the FIRST STEP Act four elements of Grassley's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The amendments would widen the "safety valve" that lets some drug offenders escape mandatory minimum sentences, narrow the criteria for mandatory minimums that apply to repeat drug offenders, clarify that escalating sentences for drug offenders who have guns require prior convictions, and retroactively apply the shorter crack cocaine sentences that Congress approved in 2010.

If Trump backs the changes Grassley wants, an amended bill could be approved by the lame-duck Congress after the election. "I believe the president was sincere," says Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, which supports sentencing reform. "I was skeptical when the White House began dabbling in this more than year ago. But the White House has been fully engaged on this."

People do change their minds about these issues: Not long ago, Grassley himself was an ardent opponent of sentencing reform. In Trump's case, the evolutionary pressure may come from people he disdains as well as people he admires.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is no fan of sentencing reform, which may count in its favor as far as Trump is concerned. If Sessions does not get on board with "prison reform," Trump said on Fox News, "then he gets overruled by me, because I make the decision."

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • SQRLSY One||

    Wow, whoa! If Trump REALLY gets on the bandwagon of rectifying the injustices done to our prisoners in our gulags, the vast-vast majority of them being there because of our stupid and evil drug war... I will have to grudgingly start becoming more of a Trump fan, and forgive him of his trade wars and hatreds of non-white immigrants!

    Will the forgiveness of prisoners extend to cheap-plastic-flute criminals as well?

    (To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ ) … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  • newshutz||

    Thanks for posting this. I have a lot of chest congestion each morning because of allergies.

    I definitely will NOT do this.

    Also, kudos to Trump if he follows through.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Thank you for the thank you!

    I bought me a "lung flute" 5 to 8 years ago, right after they came out. I used to have congestion mostly due to allergies. I was an obedient citizen and got my prescription for it! ... And I found it to be useless, ineffective for me!

    PS, I kicked the snot out of my allergies simply by paying more attention to mold and mildew in our shower... Keep it danged clean and well-grouted and caulked, well-sealed up against the mold and mildew boogers...

  • Hank Phillips||

    What next? Will the Dems change their platform to delete the Carbon Tax and stop burning Electrical Engineers at the stake for heretical Denial?

  • Hank Phillips||

    What next? Will the Dems change their platform to delete the Carbon Tax and stop burning Electrical Engineers at the stake for heretical Denial?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions is no fan of sentencing reform, which may count in its favor as far as Trump is concerned. If Sessions does not get on board with "prison reform," Trump said on Fox News, "then he gets overruled by me, because I make the decision."

    Just fire him already! God does Sessions have a Hoover file on Trump?

  • Conchfritters||

    Fuck Jeff Sessions. He's a fucking douche bag, and even if he does have a Hoover file on Trump, I hope Trump fires his ass. He was the worst senator in the senate, and he is giving Janet Reno a run for worst AG in my lifetime. The day he's fired I'm going to make 7 layer dip, get a case of beer, buy an ounce of AK47, and throw a fucking party.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Hanging Sessions is too kind.

  • vek||

    Seriously. He's been lame across the board. He's not on board with a lot of stuff Trump wants done. He's not been much of an attack dog on some of these crazy issues that have come up. He's just useless across the board.

  • Fancylad||

    I think Sessions and Trump decided to play good cop/bad cop with public opinion, but occasionally forget who's who.

  • Robert||

    It's just that Trump repays favors. But in Trump's scorekeeping, Sessions deserves to keep his job, but no more than that.

  • Thomas O.||

    Would it hurt Trump even if Joykiller Jeff DID have some dirt on him?

    Mocking a disabled guy and the "grab 'em" comment hasn't hurt the fanaticism from the DopeCons.

  • Tankboy||

    So far, Trump has cut taxes, reduced government regulations on business, negotiated freer trade deals, talked about legalizing cannabis, commuted harsh drug sentences and criticized the Federal Reserve. No wonder Democrats hate him and Republicans won't work with him, he's a fucking Libertarian!

  • sarcasmic||

    The trade deals are far from freer, and his protectionist tariffs are still in full force. Not to mention his xenophobic immigration policies.

    Yes, he has done some good things. That cannot be denied. But he is far from being a libertarian.

    Even by lc's standards Trump is not a libertarian, unless he can give himself a facial, which I doubt.

  • vek||

    Fair enough on the trade thing from a libertarian perspective. Although, as always, it is worth mentioning he's ultimately trying to twist arms to get our rates lowered...

    But "xenophobic," or somebody who lives in the real world? Because the problem with open borders types, is they ignore that there are in fact massive, and real problems with large scale immigration. Frankly, I consider the mere fact that high enough immigration can change the culture in a way natives don't like as being a FAIR complaint. ESPECIALLY in Europe, where those are the actual homelands of all the people who are having their cultures altered/replaced by immigration. But the economic issues, political issues, crime issues, etc. They're all real. And they vary from country to country. Some have better policies, some worse.

    The reason people have made it one of the major deals, is because they've just been getting completely ignored, and people pretend it is all 100% upsides... When there are in fact downsides. The truth is most people in 1st world countries DON'T WANT mass immigration. They want modest amounts of skilled immigration... The exact opposite of what the political class has shoved down their throats.

    Recognizing there are pros and cons to a thing, and then making a decision about whether you want to continue said policy, does not make one xenophobic, or racist, or anything else.

  • sarcasmic||

    There is a UUUGE middle ground between current xenophobic immigration policy and open borders. To argue that we must have one or the other is disingenuous at best, and dishonest at worst.

  • Here for the outrage||

    How's the economy right now?

  • sarcasmic||

    Worse than it would be without Trump's war on Americans who buy imports.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I agree. Totally open borders would be dangerous, especially with our current welfare policies. What chaps my butt the most is that Hispanic immigrants don't tend towards political terrorism, while Islamic immigrants sometimes do. Yet the Hispanics bear the onus of our border wars, not the Islamic folks!

  • Hank Phillips||

    The Doomsday Book mentioned the EU as an excellent way to get the Black Death loose on the British Isles again, and this was before Saudi suicide bombers became fashionable. The infiltrators who insisted on changing the LP platform to welcome uninspected Ebola carriers at least have a nasty comeuppance to look forward to when comprehension dawns on the worshippers--unless the idea was to make ALL of us look like idiots.

  • vek||

    That's because there are a bajillion times more of them. Muslims are many thousands of times more likely to commit terrorism... But there just aren't many.

    With Hispanics it is the economic issues, the cultural issues, the voting issues (being leftists), crime issues, etc.

    I'm part Mexican, and grew up in California. The illegal immigrants WERE NOT a good thing for that state. I'm down for letting in as many Mexican doctors or engineers as want to come here, but we don't need a flood of people who have an average education of 8th grade!

  • Wearenotperfect||

    I don't totally disagree with you but hasn't the percentage of businesses, small businesses in particular, started by immigrants gone up and continue to go up? I don't believe that an individuals educational level, as measured by our educational systems tape measure has any bearing on an individuals potential. I'm sure we can agree on that much.

  • vek||

    Here's the thing: By any reasonable reading of his actual proposals, HE'S NOT XENOPHOBIC! His ideas ARE middle of the road. Anyone who pretends they're extreme is off their rocker.

    How is changing over to only high skilled immigrants xenophobic? How is wanting tougher background checks on people from sketchy countries with way higher odds of committing terrorism xenophobic?

    His proposals have been eminently mediocre really. I would be a LOT more hardcore about reforms than anything he's floated. I would do it because I think our culture is being subsumed because of excess immigration. We need to change the immigrants, not the other way around. I'd probably cut back immigration a lot, at least for a period of time, and switch it to only highly skilled, with English proficiency. Maybe some other odds and ends.

    But Trump is not an extremist, the people who think he is an extremist are the extremists, just the other direction.

  • chipper me timbers||

    ^This

    I'm not even in favor of increasing border control but come on people, he's less than one standard deviation away from the last 10 presidents on this subject. He's inheriting a immigration administration that just set the record for deportations! This is not an extreme xenophobe, he's basically status quo with a few slightly more aggressive statements to go with it.

  • vek||

    Yup. AND his tweaks he wants to make are ALL in the direction the American public actually wants.

    Most people say they're in favor of immigration... But the TYPE of immigration they want, if you look through surveys that ask such questions, is exactly the stuff Trump has spelled out. A majority, a STRONG majority in many cases, want:

    Only high skilled immigrants. English proficiency required BEFORE entry. No criminals of any variety, keep a special eye out for terrorists/political extremists. NO illegal immigration, with strong enforcement for those that do it. And in some polls a majority even want fewer legal immigrants than now.

    So basically most people want what Trump wants. It's only the screeching leftist mob, and idiot open borders libertarians, that are opposed to his actual policies. If the media weren't slanting everything so bad, even a lot of Dems are actually in favor of his actual proposals.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""Not to mention his xenophobic immigration policies.""

    Isn't every countries immigration policies xenophobic?

  • sarcasmic||

    Tu quoque.

  • loki||

    He may be able to by using one of those rack things that flips you upside down. If he can project over the gut, that is.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I admire your optimism, but if he's a libertarian, then I'm a monkey's uncle.

    The reality is that virtually no one is all bad or all good. People with TDS or their MAGA counterparts can't grasp that concept. Just look at how the last pres, widely regarded as a saint, ordered the drone strike murder of children. Or how even California's Governor Moonbeam, who wastes money like nobody else can and who relies on a 7th-grader's made up statistics to ban straws, recently passed a law legalizing homemade food.

    It's nice that you can believe in the Libertarian Moment, especially given where the two major parties are right now and how they continue to hold a deathgrip on voters. But I lost my optimism years ago, and I see a pretty bleak road ahead for freedom.

  • vek||

    Trump is no libertarian in any objective sense... But he is, sadly, more libertarian on average than any recent presidents. But that's only because the bar is so low.

  • Robert||

    The bar seems so low because we're radical libertarians. If you look over the world, the USA's rulers are considerably more libertarian than avg. We're already getting much better than we could reasonably expect, it's just that our desires are at the extreme.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Considering that the desire of libertarians is simply be left alone as long as no one is hurting anyone is seen as extreme, that's truly sad.

    Instead, we all need to go broke with cradle-to-grave nannying by witless politicians and brainless bureaucrats. Even suggesting that such "help" is unnecessary at best and often completely counter-productive is seen as radical.

  • vek||

    Pretty much. I always say that out of any large countries the USA is hands down the best by far... Which is kind of depressing! But it's true. Gun rights, taxes, free speech... No other even half way real country has anywhere near the freedom we do. Some micro nations are pretty good on some stuff, but they often have issues on those things too, and are just awesome on taxes.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So what happens if the Democrats start reading the LP platform and editing out the planks copied and pasted from the CPUSA and econazi Green partisans? These LP spoiler votes are getting heftier and more and more fun to cast.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So what happens if the Democrats start reading the LP platform and editing out the planks copied and pasted from the CPUSA and econazi Green partisans? These LP spoiler votes are getting heftier and more and more fun to cast.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I say better a thousand people be unjustly imprisoned than to work with this man to free a single one and give his presidency legitimacy.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Thank you, Mr. Stalin.

  • walkaway_nov6||

    Your TDS is making you stupid.

  • Woodchipper of the Apocalypse||

    Excellent article, Mr. Sullum. Thanks for not Robbying it up.

    "To be sure, sentencing reform is great and libertarian and all, but have you read the guy's tweets? He's super-mean and therefore The Worst President of All Time."

  • John Ashman||

    The drug war is wrong. But it is almost impossible to go to jail if you don't have a violent criminal record for drug possession or sales.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Oh bullshit!

    Just get busted for possession and do NOT show up for hours and hours of state-mandated involuntary "therapy" (preaching), and pay for it all... And then get busted AGAIN for illegal drugs, and see what happens!

  • vek||

    Uh yeah, but that's called being an idiot.

    I got busted for such things when I was a teenager. So did lots of my friends. I more or less jumped all the hoops, with a single hiccup of missing some stuff, but never went to the klink. Even after getting busted another time for underage drinking! Friends that completely fucked it all off got fucked.

    It may not be fair, but it's an obvious outcome. Speed limits are often stupid too... But if you break them, there are predictable outcomes. So if you're going to break a law, don't bitch if you get caught. Maybe try to campaign to change the law afterwards, but you can't complain about being punished in exactly the way that was written into the law.

  • Bubba Jones||

    And if your shitty boss at your shitty job keeps scheduling conflicts with your stupid requirements?

  • Agammamon||

    So if you're going to break a law, don't bitch if you get caught. Maybe try to campaign to change the law afterwards,

    Tell that to the slaves, the miscegenists, the people who read illegal books, the mixed-race during Apartheid.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Yeah, and tell that to people who commit the "crime"'of living on the same street or having the same house number but on a different street
    as a drug dealer. Swat teams have a very hard time confirming addresses, or hadn't you heard?

    And also tell that to people who keeps dogs as pets but otherwise have done nothing wrong, or even people who dare to sit on their back porches while being black. Or the ones whose spouses call for help because they are depressed and taking about suicide, whereupon the cops show up and promptly euthanize them.

  • vek||

    Laws are unjust... Some of them may be worth breaking... But don't be surprised if you get fucked when you get caught!

    I don't know what else to say. The world is a fucked place. It's always been so. If you feel strongly enough about a law to just break it, fine, but don't be surprised if you get punished for it.

  • Echospinner||

    Nuremberg laws

    Those were legal. Everything they did was legal.

  • Agammamon||

    Wooooooooow.

  • Agammamon||

    I mean, 'drug possession or sales'? Can you possibly use a drug without possessing it? All drug users are guilty of possession.

  • Echospinner||

    Aha. It was bought somewhere.

    Which brings me to my fence post dilemma.

    By drugs I am talking heroin, meth, not pot.

    Decriminalizing drug use I advocate strongly for.

    Show up at Walmart and buy Heroin, does not sit right with me. That is the libertarian dilemma I am trying to figure out.

    Likewise I think our drug laws for dealers are too extreme.

    Addiction to opiod drugs and proper use of those is a medical problem as I see it.

    Opiod addiction is not libertarian choice. The drug itself rewires neural pathways and takes choice away. The user is trapped just to feel normal. Nobody chose this outcome yet they followed the pretty pathway and ended in the quicksand. When we talk about free choices made which harm nobody else we can cross Heroin addiction right off that list.

    Sure nicotine is very addictive but it is nowhere near as powerful and dangerous as opiates.

  • MSimon||

    PTSD rewires neural pathways. As far as I know this is not accounted for.

  • chipper me timbers||

    "Show up at Walmart and buy Heroin, does not sit right with me. That is the libertarian dilemma I am trying to figure out."

    Fuck off slaver

  • JudoPete||

    Possession of a single tablet of any Rx without a verifiable prescription is an arrestsble felony offense. Bail could be anywhere from $500 to $5,000 and unless you can pay or find someone that can sign a bond you sit in jail until trial, probably losing a job in the process. You probably end up on probation with more fees and they'll probably violate it a time or two for something silly, leading to more jail time, fees, and lawyer costs. Thousands of dollars, god knows how many days in jail and lost productivity. All over a pill or a few milligrams of powdery or leafy substance.

  • vek||

    Pretty legit.

    Since Trump is the LEAST so-conish Republican in forever to become president, I've said since the get go if he REALLY wanted to mop up his reelection he should legalize weed. It would blow peoples minds, win him a ton of votes probably, and all the so-cons would STILL vote for him because they would have no better choice.

  • Fancylad||

    Yep, most religious voters have taken the left's rhetoric seriously, and now believe if the DNC gets full control again, it's off to the gulags and ovens for them.
    So even though Trump lives and thinks like a hedonist, they'll stick with him, because they don't think he hates them and wishes them harm.

  • vek||

    Pretty much. This has been my suggestion on many of the social issues for a long time. Some of those dumb things are what keep a big portion of fiscally conservative people from voting Republican. But if you don't lose the bible thumpers, what is the point in not throwing in the towel on an issue like weed or whatever? It's all upside, no downside.

  • Hank Phillips||

    What's this? Elections drawing near and God's Own Prohibitionists suddenly recall the recent 328% increase in the Libertarian vote count? This is the Libertarian party whose platform says "we favor the repeal of all laws creating "crimes" without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes." Huh. Maybe there is something to the way libertarian spoiler votes prompt communist and fascist politicians alike to walk back some of their cruel and superstitious prohibition laws.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Trump is actually doing more than a few good things--and a number of them are on the libertarian wish list . Isn't it about time to consider that he may not be doing it by mistake?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Trump is not a libertarian but overall he's many times better than either of the Bushs, Obama, HRC, or any current Democratic possibility. Haven't ordered my MAGA hat yet but I'm pretty sure I'll be pulling an R instead of an L in 2020, barring a new war.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Say... doesn't Canada's legalization of Indian hemp take effect any day now?

  • Eddy||

    "Notably, Trump did not say the solution is more commutations, although those would certainly be welcome."

    It certainly would be, if not to everyone at least to those informed persons who think the feds have too many people locked up for too long.

    Why is it that Presidents who are normally so ambitious to expand executive power, even in constitutionally-dubious areas, are so timid when it comes to using the pardon power which is expressly granted to them in the Constitution?

    I mean, I know the answer - they don't want to pardon someone who goes on to do another crime. Or in general don't want to be "soft." But I'm willing to bet if they do a study of these petitions they're getting, they'll find plenty of places where a pardon would be just, not soft at all. (And if a pardoned person goes on to misuse their freedom, that's on them, it doesn't mean it was wrong to pardon them for their original sentence)

  • SQRLSY One||

    Amen, well said!

  • Agammamon||

    Trump Slams 'Very Unfair' Drug Sentences

    I guess we know what we need to do - this guy just parrots back whatever the last person he talked to tells him so we need to get a libertarian-friendly celebrity list together and just have a constant parade of these guys coming in to hang out with Trump.

    Otherwise he's going to see Duterte again at some point and he'll be back to 'drug users should just be killed outright'.

  • vek||

    Well, technically total annihilation and total appeasement both should work in theory! LOL

  • marshaul||

    Yup, pretty much this.

  • trig||

    So, hope for Ross Ulbricht?

  • ||

    Does that cunt judge get a tape worm in her stomach yet?

  • MSimon||

    In a speech delivered at the Miami Herald's Company of the Year Awards luncheon [April 1990], Donald Trump condemned the "war on drugs" as "a joke" and called for the legalization of drugs. "We're losing badly the war on drugs," he said. "You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars."

  • chipper me timbers||

    If only he acted consistently....

  • BenjaminTheDonkey||

    He says a lot of things. I wouldn't put too much stock in it.

  • ||

    Isn't this a good thing what Trump said?

  • rano del||

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