“The Trump administration’s record on the criminal legal system reform is abysmal. Trump himself has also called for police to rough up suspects, threatened protesters with military response and has halted police reform and accountability for unconstitutional conduct. [The First Step Act] is an anomaly against the backdrop of how his administration . . . has systematically undone almost all existing federal reform efforts.”
-- Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The act aims to lessen sentencing disparities for nonviolent crimes involving crack cocaine. Even so, Trump’s two attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, are vocal critics of reducing sentences, and the Department of Justice has frequently tried to make prisoners ineligible for the program, or even reincarcerate those who have benefitted from it.
A host of other programs have been eliminated or hampered by the Trump administration, including diminishing programs meant to investigate the unequal incarceration rates among racial populations, “pattern-or-practice” investigations to determine whether force is used primarily against Black Americans, and the slashing of the use of consent decrees.
The Case for Pence
The First Step Act freed more than 3,000 prisoners in its first year.
When a legal challenge to cash bail in San Francisco went forward in 2016, then Attorney General of California Kamala Harris declined to file a motion to support it, despite having earlier saying she would.
A 2012 study from the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that in 2009, during Harris’ second term as the city’s prosecutor, Black San Franciscans between the ages of 10 and 69 were 19 times more likely to be arrested for drug-related felonies. The study does not review prosecutions, over which Harris would have had control.
Kamala Harris supported nation’s first implicit bias training in California for all police officers, but it never passed into law, and open questions remain, even among pro-reform leaders, about whether such training actually reduces the number of deaths of Black Americans.