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CBN News EXCLUSIVE: Faith Leaders to Meet at White House Friday to Discuss Prison Reform

04-26-2018
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Evangelical leaders will meet at the White House Friday to discuss ways to reform the country's criminal justice system.

CBN News has been informed that a few of the attendees will include Bishop Harry Jackson, evangelist Paula White, Dr. Sharon Nesbitt and others from the Reconciled Church Movement.

In a newly released letter, Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center say:

"Writing together, as an Orthodox rabbi and a Christian minister, we feel deeply for victims of crime and we take comfort in our American system, which demands justice for those who violate the rule of law. But we also affirm these efforts to reform a prison system that invests too little money and too little energy in rehabilitation programs for inmates and for those re-entering society."

"Of course, our own communities of faith have a religious obligation and centuries-old traditions of caring for prisoners and their families. But it isn't just America's religious leaders who support such reform," they continue.   

This meeting is a series of listening sessions between the administration, led by advisor Jared Kushner and civil and religious leaders about ways to reform the criminal justice system.  

Kushner has been a pivotal player behind the scenes of Congress' latest effort to implement prison reform.

The discussions on prison reform began almost a year ago at the White House during a dinner between Kushner, his wife Ivanka and faith leaders.

The Prison Reform and Redemption Act, co-sponsored by US Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), hopes to cut down on federal recidivism rates.

The House Judiciary Committee was expected to vote on the measure Wednesday, however, that vote has been delayed until the week of May 7.

So what’s in the proposal?

  • Expansion of prison programs and earned time credit opportunities through the use of the Bureau of Prison’s sponsored anti-recidivism programs, drug rehabilitation, and work training.
  • Risk assessment by the DOJ in which the department decides the best programming for each prisoner.
  • Incentives for program completion, including increased phone privileges and the chance to serve remaining time in halfway housing.  

The bill will use faith-based organizations to help in the efforts.  

According to Christian ministry Prison Fellowship, about 40,000 federal prisoners will be released this year and nearly 20,000 will return within the next three years.

"The revolving door of criminal justice is devastating to families and depresses economic activity in many communities," Heather Rice-Minus, vice president of Government Affairs for Prison Fellowship, told CBN News.  

She supports the bill and is hopeful about its potential.  

"The Prison Reform and Redemption Act will expand and improve the delivery of prison programming, allowing men and women in our federal prisons to return home better prepared to give back to their families and communities at their highest potential," said Rice-Minus.

Christian ministries, such as Prison Fellowship, have had success in changing re-entry statistics by working with prisoners in areas such as job training and spiritual mentoring.  

The Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, another Christian ministry, boasts a recidivism rate of 11 percent while the national average sits at 52 percent.

Under the House version of the bill, people convicted of 48 different categories, including homicide, child exploitation, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and treason, are ineligible for credit towards pre-release.

Critics say that list is too broad.

According to Politico, the House version has the backing of both the White House and the Department of Justice. White House Advisor Jared Kushner is leading the effort to bridge the gap and keep the bill moving through the Senate.

However, the NAACP says the measure doesn't go far enough when it comes to addressing mandatory minimum sentences and it stops short of a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last year.  

That bill would get rid of some mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related offenses.

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Kushner weighed in on the importance of the legislation despite its failure to address sentencing.

“Some leading voices on criminal-justice reform have suggested that the Collins-Jeffries bill does not go far enough, because it does not address the issue of sentencing. But the continued debate on sentencing should not impede the immediate progress the federal government can make to give former prisoners a better shot at a successful life,” he wrote.

“President Trump promised to fight for the forgotten men and women of this country—and that includes those in prison,” Kushner continued.

CNN commentator and criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones writes, "There is still some room for progress. My big heartache – on this topic and so many others – is how much common ground there is when you get people talking – and yet how little we actually do about it. Taking a small but meaningful step together now could allow us to take more steps together later."

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