Van Jones: 'Nightmare' of Tough-on-Crime Politics Coming to an End With Bill's Passage


December 19, 2018

Criminal justice reform advocate Van Jones said the "nightmare" of tough-on-crime politics was beginning to come to an end on Tuesday after the Senate passed the FIRST STEP Act.

Among its measures include the creation of a system by which prisoners can earn credit toward early release by participating in recidivism reduction programs, and a modification of sentencing laws, in particular for nonviolent drug offenders. The Senate passed the bill 87-12—all the nay votes were Republicans—and it's expected to pass the House when it takes up the Senate version and then be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Jones, a CNN commentator and former Obama administration official, called it a "Christmas miracle" that would offset the damage done since 1988 when George H. W. Bush used the Willie Horton crime ad in his successful campaign for the White House.

"Both political parties then rushed to build prisons and be tough on crime, and we've been trapped for decades now in this dynamic that you just can't do anything to move in a smarter direction," he said. "That nightmare began to come to an end tonight."

Jones worked closely with White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, on the reform package. The effort united organizations and political figures that are normally at loggerheads, such as libertarian Charles Koch and the left-wing Center for American Progress.

The bill saw significant opposition however from some White House allies, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), who has said it allows too many criminals to be released early and endangers public safety.

Cotton and Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) proposed three amendments to the bill that they said would prevent the early release of violent criminals, track the bill's recidivism effects, and notify victims of their perpetrator's release. They were all defeated.

Trump cheered the bill's passage on Tuesday night, tweeting his congratulations to the Senate and saying it was his job to fight for all citizens, "even those who have made mistakes."

UPDATE: 9:53 P.M.: This article previously referred to the "libertarian Koch brothers" being involved in the bill, but David Koch has retired from political activity due to his health. It has been corrected to refer simply to Charles Koch.