As reported here on Monday, this week the Department of Justice finally got around to announced the selection of the Hudson Institute as the host the Independent Review Committee required by the FIRST STEP Act to help DOJ develop and implement the Act’s risk and needs assessment tools and recidivism reduction programs. Various folks, including members of Congress, have expressed various concerns about this pick, and this new Mother Jones article effectively reviews why. The article is headlined “Trump Keeps Celebrating Prison Reform. His Administration’s Latest Move Could Sabotage It,” and is worth reading in full. Here are excerpts (with links from the original):
Now lawmakers of both parties who backed the First Step Act are alarmed at the Justice Department’s latest move, and at least two senators made clear their discomfort during a hearing on Wednesday. “I’m a little bit worried that we just let a fox in the chicken coop here,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the Hudson Institute during a confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general nominee Jeffrey Rosen. “This is a think tank that has a point of view…They published an article entitled, ‘Why Trump Should Oppose Criminal-Justice Reform.’ This is the same agency that’s now been chosen by the Department of Justice and Trump administration to be part of this so-called independent review [committee] system.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) meanwhile described the institute as an “opponent of the First Step Act” and asked whether Rosen would choose another group to focus on the risk assessment tool if he were confirmed. (Rosen did not answer that part of the question but said he supported the First Step Act.) “I don’t see a lot of good faith in implementing this law right now,” Lee said. “And it’s become increasingly clear to me in the last few days that some Department of Justice officials at least don’t like the First Step Act, and they seem not to care that Congress passed this law and that President Trump signed this into law.”
The Hudson Institute, founded in 1961, is known for its work on national security and foreign policy, though it also focuses on economics and domestic policy. For the First Step Act, it has announced six committee members so far who will develop the risk assessment program. One of the members is its own chief operating officer, John Walters, who served as a drug czar in the Bush administration. During his confirmation hearing for that position in 2001, some senators said they were concerned about his views on criminal justice: He had written it was a “great urban myth” that the country was imprisoning too many people for drug possession, and he had suggested that the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences was merely a “perceived racial injustice,” implying no real racial discrimination was at play. In 2015, after he joined the Hudson Institute, he wrote that the concept of “mass incarceration” was also a myth, and that “the great majority of federal prisoners appear to be incarcerated because they were, properly, adjudged guilty and justly sentenced.” These views appear to be in direct conflict with changes in the First Step Act, including reforms to ease some mandatory minimum sentences and retroactively reduce sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. (That said, a Hudson Institute spokesperson says Walters has publicly endorsed reforms to crack sentencing since the early 2000s.)
Some of many prior related posts:
- Might the US Sentencing Commission provide some real-time updates on the implementation of the FIRST STEP Act?
- FAMM sends letter to BOP and DOJ to urge full implementation of key provisions of the FIRST STEP Act
- “3 more steps to make ‘First Step Act’ work”
- Might White House provide “impact data” on FIRST STEP Act as Prez Trump celebrates the law next week?
- “Trump Celebrates Criminal Justice Overhaul, but His Budget Barely Funds It”
- Encouraging news and inspiring notes as White House celebrates FIRST STEP Act
- “Department of Justice Announces First Step Act Implementation Progress”
- A few comments on implementing the FIRST STEP Act in written testimony from AG William Barr