Nearly one year ago, historic bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation was signed into law by President Donald Trump. For that the Bipartisan Justice Center honored the president with its Bipartisan Justice Award last weekend, a well-deserved honor.
But partisans like Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., are so blinded by their disdain for Trump that they will undermine his work to bring opportunity, economic freedom, and justice to every community, including the black community.
Harris was disturbed that Trump received the same award she received three years prior.
She threatened to boycott a Democratic candidate forum scheduled for the next day at a historically black college in South Carolina. She accused event organizers of ignoring the president’s record of "celebrating mass incarceration, . . . and racist behavior that puts people’s lives at risk," adding that he is "a lawless president" with "nothing in his career that is about justice, for justice, or in celebration of justice."
Harris forgot that President Trump’s personal involvement was key to getting conservatives to support and pass the First Step Act for which he was honored.
The First Step Act eases mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, increases time that could be shaved off a sentence for good behavior and completing recidivism reduction programs, expands access to rehabilitation services, and restores dignity to women serving time by ending the shackling of pregnant inmates and providing free menstrual products to female inmates. In other words, it was an important step forward for justice, and President Trump used his political capital to make it happen.
President Trump has demonstrated a commitment to justice reform.
Sadly, black Americans are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system and that has a rippling impact on economic and social outcomes of this community. Continued efforts to address the criminal justice system won’t solve all of our intractable problems, but do provide much-needed help.
For example, black men have been the biggest beneficiaries of the sentencing reforms in the First Step Act. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 91 percent of the first thousand federal inmates whose sentences were reduced were black and 98 percent were men.
Freedom came early to black women too, such as 45-year-old Tanesha Bannister who was released five years sooner thanks to the First Step Act. Bannister who spoke during the justice event said of President Trump "I can’t thank him enough. He gave me a new lease on life."
Ms. Bannister had been handed a life sentence in 2004 from her part in a major cocaine smuggling operation. Her commitment to changing her life through faith and by educating herself, which included earning a GED and taking more than 100 classes, made her a model inmate and earned her an early release that was further reduced by sentencing reforms.
Tanesha Bannister is one of many real people who were able to return to their families after serving time on sentences and working to turn their lives around. These are the people we hope don’t return to prison but successfully re-enter society.
A critical element to reduce recidivism is work. The black unemployment rate fell to a record low of 5.5 percent. That alone should be celebrated. Trump administration policies of deregulation and tax relief have kept the economy going strong continuing the 10-year economic expansion and boosting job creation for all Americans.
Workers who have been sidelined from opportunity due to criminal records and incarceration are also getting a chance to work because of the abundance of unfilled jobs and a workplace cultural shift to accept Americans with criminal records.
Former inmates faced a 27 percent unemployment in 2018, when the national unemployment rate was 5 percent (down to 3.7 percent today).
In a tremendous shift, companies like Walmart and Target have voluntarily removed criminal background questions from job applications.
Dozens of states have banned private or public employers from asking about criminal history until well into the interview process including after a job offer is received.
The Trump White House did not lead this cultural change but is bolstering efforts through its second chance initiative, a partnership between government agencies, the private sector and nonprofit organizations to boost participation in correctional education, help federal agencies connect employers to former inmates, and encourage employers to hire former inmates.
These initiatives are new and we should assess their effectiveness in reducing recidivism over time. However, let’s give credit to whom credit is due.
President Trump wants to put all Americans back to work, especially those whose criminal backgrounds have locked them out of opportunity.
Those on the left like Sen. Harris who boycott everything Trump does based on phony racial outrage are effectively boycotting the help he’s brought to millions of blacks and Americans of all colors.
To the question: Do Democrats hate Trump more than welcome the help he brings to blacks? It’s hard to answer anything other than yes. Americans want and deserve better than partisan roadblocks. They want a chance and welcome help from whoever offers it.