President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to create a new, interagency federal council to report on federal prison reentry policy, continuing the administration's ongoing focus on prison reform.
The Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry will bring together representatives from 11 executive departments and offices, ranging the Department of the Education to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The representatives appointed to the council will be responsible for producing recommendations for evidence-based reforms to improve federal support for programs which cut offending and recidivating.
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Those programs include both pre-offense programs—including support for mental and behavioral health services—and access to resources for inmates to help them reintegrate with society once their time is served. Those resources would include better access to education, mentorship, substance abuse treatment, and mental and behavioral health treatment.
The executive order situates its focus on prison reform within the context of rising violent crime rates, including a two-year spike in the U.S. homicide rate in 2015 and 2016. Reforming and strengthening prison rehabilitation and reentry programs is, in the view of the Trump administration, a key feature of keeping violent crime under control.
"To further improve public safety, we should aim not only to prevent crime in the first place, but also to provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives," the order reads.
The council’s formation marks the latest move in the administration's prison reform efforts, which have earned prominent attention since Trump mentioned them during the State of the Union. Late last month, Trump sent a list of prison reform priorities to Congress, similarly emphasizing reducing recidivism while preserving law and order.
The new council earned praise from conservative voices pushing for criminal justice reform. Mark Holden, advisory council chairman of pro-reform group Safe Streets & Second Chances, applauded Trump's order.
"While legislation is still needed at both the federal and state level, the President's action shows that criminal justice reform and helping people improve their lives is a top priority for this White House," Holden said.
Meanwhile, while the Trump administration has been full steam ahead on prison reform, it has been far less friendly on actually reducing prison sentences for federal crimes. The current sentencing reform effort making its way through Congress, the Sentencing Reform Act, has been explicitly rejected by the White House, as well as by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has also announced a slate of tough-on-crime nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is tasked with advising judges on appropriate sentencing levels; this move further signals the administration's commitment not to loosen criminal sentencing standards.