Fox News suggested Trump could take on prison reform, but his administration’s policies are worsening mass incarceration

Fox News suggested Trump could take on prison reform, but his administration’s policies are worsening mass incarceration

Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

After President Donald Trump commuted the excessive sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offender, Fox News speculated that he could lead an initiative for bipartisan prison reform. In reality, the drug policies enacted by the Trump administration are more likely to worsen mass incarceration.

After Trump met with celebrity Kim Kardashian West on June 6, he commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who had spent 21 years in prison for two drug charges. The Johnson commutation, part of Trump’s arbitrary clemency spree, led Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer to suggest that the government could do “prison reform under this president.” Fox headlines anchor Carley Shimkus responded, saying that according to the ACLU, “there’s 3,000 nonviolent, first-time offenders in prison right now” and that there could be “some common ground” across the political spectrum on this issue because “this is something that the anthem-kneelers are always preaching about.”

In reality, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has adopted several policies that will actually worsen mass incarceration, especially for the nonviolent, first-time offenders Shimkus was talking about. 

Even before he was in office, analysts predicted that Trump would grow the federal prison population. Although that population has been decreasing since 2013, the rate of decrease has slowed significantly under the Trump administration. According to Bureau of Prisons statistics, the total number of federal inmates dropped by only around 6,500 in 2017, as opposed to more than 13,500 the year before. Since the current number of federal inmates is already only around 1,500 lower than last year’s total, Trump seems likely to preside over the first growth in federal prison populations in half a decade.

Contributing to Trump’s reversal of declining prison populations is his punitive immigration and drug policies. Trump’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has made a very high-profile habit of imprisoning immigrants (or people who simply appear to be immigrants) and trying to deport them, including by falsely accusing them of being affiliated with gangs. 

On drugs, the Trump administration’s extremely regressive policies have flown under the radar and allowed Trump to grab occasional credit for entertaining “prison reform,” even as he and Sessions shovel more people into the maw of mass incarceration. Sessions’ tenure as attorney general makes a mockery of the concept of criminal justice reform; he threatened to prosecute marijuana businesses operating legally under state law and reversed an Obama-era guideline to avoid pursuing charges for first-time nonviolent drug offenders that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences, instructing prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible.

In addition, Sessions ended an Obama-era program investigating abusive police forces, and his Department of Justice made a months-long attempt to federally prosecute a woman for laughing at him. On Trump’s part, his administration has been an unprecedented boon for the scourge that is private prisons, he has reauthorized police departments to use military surplus gear and weapons, and Trump himself has repeatedly expressed a desire to execute drug dealers.

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