[Pnews] Trump’s Embrace of First Step Act is Fake Reform - 2 Comments

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 19 10:11:29 EST 2018

/*Two articles follow*/


  What the Latest Bipartisan Prison Reform Gets Wrong and Why It Matters

By Dan Berger - November 16, 2018

A specter is haunting the United States — the specter of “bipartisan 
prison reform.” Although the last effort at bipartisan prison reform 
stalled out in 2014-15, the US now seems poised to pass the “First Step 
Act,” after Donald Trump signaled his support for the measure in a 
statement at the White House on Wednesday.

Passage of the bill would be a major victory for Trump. A number of 
liberal and progressive commentators have gone all in on the 
legislation, which has been heavily shaped by Jared Kushner and Koch 
Industries attorney Mark Holden. CNN commentator and Cut50 
<https://www.cut50.org/> cofounder Van Jones praised Trump. “Give the 
man his due,” Jones tweeted 
<https://twitter.com/VanJones68/status/1062852237779554304>, saying the 
president is “on his way to becoming the uniter-in-Chief on an issue 
that has divided America for generations.”

Yet, regardless of who is “uniting” around its passage, the bill itself 
is both weak and dangerous. While it offers a few token reforms — some 
of them, like the end of shackling for pregnant and post-partum women in 
federal custody, necessary and long overdue — it leaves many of the most 
pressing issues 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/longsentences.html> off the table. 
It barely makes a dent in terms of reducing the length of prison 
sentences or reducing the number of people in prison. Meanwhile, it 
heightens the use of racist and classist assessment mechanisms and 
expands the net of surveillance.

The proposed bill includes a few minor reductions in sentence length for 
federal prisoners, by expanding potential access to good time credits 
and lowering the age of consideration for compassionate release However, 
it will not make any sentence reductions retroactive (except for the 
2010 Fair Sentencing Act 
which minimized — but did not erase — the disparity between crack and 
cocaine sentences). This means that people who are currently serving, 
for example, life sentences for drug offenses will not get any relief 
from this bill. A press release 
<https://fop.net/CmsDocument/Doc/FOP%20on%20First%20Step%20Act.pdf> from 
the National Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed the First Step 
Act, indicates that the organization “engaged” with lawmakers to ensure 
that most sentencing changes would not be applied retroactively. Despite 
Trump taking a deserved pot shot at Bill Clinton’s support for punitive 
crime policy of the 1990s, the bill would leave intact the lengthy 
sentences and limited legal access that Clinton enacted in a trifecta of 
laws (the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the Illegal 
Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Reform Act, the Prison 
Litigation Reform Act).

The bill also expands the cruelties of “e-carceration 
These reforms use electronic monitoring and other forms of 
often-privatized surveillance to build what activists have dubbed 
“digital prisons <https://medium.com/nodigitalprisons>” that fatten the 
wallets of prison telecommunication companies while further extending 
carceral control into people’s homes and daily lives. Vivian Nixon, a 
formerly incarcerated person and director of College and Community 
Fellowship <http://collegeandcommunity.org/ccf/>, dubbed First Step “an 
insidious move toward expanded control and surveillance in our homes and 

Additionally, the First Step Act relies on the same tried-and-terrible 
“risk assessment” algorithms that have been repeatedly proven to 
reproduce racism 
in sentencing 
These risk assessment techniques demonstrate the deep conservatism 
driving the bill. Treating incarcerated people as entrepreneurial 
supplicants, the legislation seeks to “incentivize” their participation 
in prison programs — except that people who fail the “risk assessment” 
cannot access many of the benefits anyway. The Leadership Conference on 
Civil and Human Rights wrote 
<https://civilrights.org/vote-no-first-step-act-2/> that the Act’s use 
of algorithms risks “embedding deep racial and class bias into decisions 
that heavily impact the lives and futures of federal prisoners and their 

We are seeing a dangerous combination of overwhelming Democratic support 
for this woefully misguided legislation and terribly misguided 
excitement for bipartisan cooperation with a white nationalist 
administration. This combination is bad policy — and bad politics.

In fact, one should scuttle any talk of bipartisanship. For Republicans, 
the First Step Act is a calculated political move. They want, first and 
foremost, to rescue their moribund, dying minority of a political party 
from the dust heap of history. The successful, if partial, overturning 
of policies that disenfranchise people with felony convictions in 
Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and elsewhere poses new political questions. 
Republicans can no longer ignore formerly incarcerated people or their 
families as a political constituency: 70 million Americans have criminal 
records, and mass incarceration is increasingly being felt in 
conservative white rural communities. Though the US prison system is 
thoroughly racist, there are still hundreds of thousands of white people 
who have been in prison or whose family members have. Some GOP 
strategists are hoping that they can be convinced to vote Republican. 
And indeed, many of them might 

The First Step Act needs to be seen in the context of both what the 
federal government can do in general on prison issues — and what /this/ 
federal government can, or will, do. The federal government oversees two 
primary areas of punishment: the federal prison system and immigrant 
detention. The federal prison system is about 13% of the overall prison 
system — so no matter what the bill does, it will only impact a small 
portion of those incarcerated. (That, in and of itself, is not a reason 
to oppose it, but it bears mentioning for the sake of clarity.) Even if 
it wanted to — which it most assuredly does not — the federal government 
simply cannot enact the massive reductions in the US prison population 
that would be required to end mass incarceration. That fight remains 
strongest at the state and local levels.

Meanwhile, when it comes to immigrant detention, of course, the Trump 
administration is not even pretending to attempt to reduce the 
incarcerated population. The severity of this administration’s approach 
to immigrants and refugees reveals the punitive foundations of its 
worldview. This is, after all, the party of concentration camps for 
migrant children. The party of expanded detention and accelerated 
deportation. The party of raids on immigrant communities. The party of 
border walls, border fences, border guards, and border militarization. 
The party of the Muslim ban. The party of ending abortion and erasing 
transgender people out of legal personhood, both of which rest on 
expanded criminalization. The party of “lock her up.”

None of that has changed, nor will it. Six weeks ago, the administration 
diverted nearly half a billion dollars from medical research, FEMA, and 
other necessary federal projects to pay for its expanded regime of 
immigrant detention (including family separation). The First Step Act 
continues this nativistic violence by excluding undocumented immigrants 
as well as “people who are convicted of high-level offenses.” 

In pushing the First Step Act, Republicans are hoping to score a public 
relations victory to stabilize their power. They are aiming to shore up 
their legitimacy while the party otherwise advances transparently 
dangerous and historically unpopular policies to strip people of their 
health care, right to organize, and environmental and personal safety. 
The First Step Act does not signal any change of heart or action by the 
core violence of this administration.

Such is the way of politics. Even white nationalist kleptocrats need to 
adjust to changing circumstances. Yet progressives do a dangerous 
disservice to give any comfort to this agenda. The First Step Act is 
only being debated as a result of the hard work that a large number of 
grassroots organizers have put in over the years and decades. Yet the 
bill evacuates many of their demands. As author, activist, and formerly 
incarcerated person James Kilgore tweeted 
<https://twitter.com/waazn1/status/1063120714922889218>, this act aims 
“to sideline voices of radical critics of mass incarceration/prison 
industrial complex. A moderate reform agenda like this will not bring us 
to 1980 levels of incarceration before the earth boils due to climate 

Bipartisanship requires a “middle ground” on which to find a mutually 
agreeable solution. And that middle ground has been fundamental to the 
development and maintenance of mass incarceration. Though Democrats and 
Republicans have at times disagreed on the particulars, both have shared 
what historian Julilly Kohler-Hausmann 
has called a “get tough” approach to limiting welfare and expanding 
punishment. Both parties have tried to solve social problems through 
expanding the power of police, the scope of prisons, and the scale of 
surveillance. Both parties have persecuted working-class communities of 
color through domestic wars on crime, drugs, gangs, and terrorism. Each 
new front in these wars has moved the middle rightward.

Ending mass incarceration will require more partisanship, not less. 
Stemming the rising tide of fascism will require more partisanship, not 
less. Partnering with Trump and company in the name of “bipartisanship” 
to achieve a few tepid reforms pretends that their extreme violence 
against Black, Native, Latinx, and multiracial queer and transgender 
communities is somehow separate from the field of prison rather than 
central to it.

There is no victory in walking the path of co-optation. Instead of 
trying to meet in the middle with white nationalists and corporate 
shills, progressives should be trying to /make/ the middle ourselves: to 
build the common sense reasoning and policy platforms that advance new 
paradigms of justice, safety, and sustainability. We’ve got a world to win.



  Trump’s Embrace of First Step Act is Fake Reform

November 17, 2018

As thousands of firefighters, many of whom are currently incarcerated, 
battle one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes California 
has ever experienced, Donald Trump embraces the First Step Act, a bill 
that reinforces the blistering racism and capitalistic policies that 
have subjected millions of Black, Brown, and poor bodies to local, 
state, and federal criminal justice systems.

Mass incarceration impacts all aspects of life for so many Californians 
and Americans. We work in a collaborative formation that many call a 
movement, with the intent and desire to set our communities free from a 
system that has devastated our communities for generations. Currently, 
we work under a particular kind of duress, as there is an administration 
in place that has not only affirmed and validated the state violence 
that we fight, but gregariously celebrated it. To have Van Jones and 
others come to Los Angeles in this moment, and extol the virtues of 
Trump’s destructive and amoral administration and call him a 
“uniter-in-chief” was an example of irresponsible advocates supporting a 
divisive policy that continues the denigration of people who are 
incarcerated, including immigrants.

“The Trump administration has not and is not embracing reform,” Phal 
Sok, a member of JusticeLA and the Youth Justice Coalition explains. 
“Characterizing an endorsement of the First Step Act as such is not only 
myopic, it disregards his relentless attacks on our communities. As part 
of the collective movement for liberation, JusticeLA stands in strong 
opposition to local and national forces that seek to expand the reach of 
incarceration and call reform.”

Those, like Van Jones, who traffic in policy efforts that serve to 
expand the reach of the prison industrial complex in order to secure 
political footing, do so while exploiting the desperation, 
vulnerability, and trauma of impacted people and sanctioning an 
administration peddling fascism and white supremacy. Liberal accomplices 
of Trump-endorsed policies do so at the risk of obscuring the 
administration’s actual agenda – increasing the criminalization, 
incarceration and deportation of LGBTQIA+ communities, refugees and 
Black and Brown people from America’s “ghettos” and “shithole countries.”

Earlier this year, JusticeLA voiced our opposition 
the bill. We can only hope that some good can come of it, and we 
appreciate those who fought to make key changes to the bill, namely 
adding some sentencing reform, limiting DOJ and warden discretion, and 
demanding oversight for disturbing provisions like the development and 
implementation of algorithmic based risk assessment instruments. Those 
changes are ultimately not enough to mitigate what is in the end, a 
harmful bill that expands the mass criminalization and surveillance of 
our communities, or what Michelle Alexander describes as “the newest Jim 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/08/opinion/sunday/criminal-justice-reforms-race-technology.html> The 
First Step Act does not represent real reform. It carves out those most 
vulnerable to the revolving door impacts of mass imprisonment, and 
manages to create more bureaucracy. This bill is weaker than prior 
federal criminal justice reform efforts, while also placing potential 
implementation in the hands of an administration that openly endorses 
“zero tolerance” policies that have led to family separation and the 
incarceration of thousands. “In many respects, we’re getting very much 
tougher on the truly bad criminals — of which, unfortunately, there are 
many,” Trump declared. If Trump does in fact keep his word, the First 
Step Act will be yet another tool of a corrupt and punitive administration.


Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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