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Black Pastors Helping White House With Prison Reform

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President Donald Trump has told Republican senators that he’s open to a new proposal on prison reform to include sentencing reform, giving new life to an issue that seemed hopelessly stalled on Capitol Hill.

The announcement follows a meeting with African-American pastors at the White House earlier this week.

Trump told the group, which included pastors and bishops from across the country, that his administration has been making progress on efforts to make it easier for prisoners to re-enter society and find work.

“When we say hire American, we mean all Americans,” Trump said.

The compromise presented to Trump by Republican senators would combine the prison reform bill passed by the House in May—the First Step Act—with four sentencing reform provisions that have bipartisan Senate backing, according to news reports citing sources familiar with the meeting.  

The First Step Act did not include sentencing reform because of opposition. In February, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, R-TX,  said he favored moving prison reform separately from sentencing reform because he thought the latter “was opposed by a number of lawmakers, preventing it from even being considered by the Senate.”

Cornyn is the sponsor of Senate prison reform legislation that would shift lower-risk inmates to less restrictive conditions and promote partnerships with faith-based and charitable groups to reduce recidivism. Those efforts are proving successful across the country.

But Republican senators in favor of sentencing reform think Cornyn would vote for the proposal if it was demonstrated not to be weighing down his own bill.

Cornyn on Wednesday said he has an open mind about getting a broader criminal justice bill signed into law.

Pastors Darrell Scott, John Gray Meet With President Trump to Discuss Prison Reform

Those meeting with the administration on Wednesday included Darrell Scott, a black Ohio pastor who was an early supporter of Trump’s campaign and has been working with the administration on urban and prison issues.

He compared Trump to his predecessor, Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, and said: “This president actually wants to prove something to our community, our faith-based community and our ethnic community.”

Also on hand was John Gray, pastor of the Relentless Church in Greenville, S.C.  

He told the American Urban Radio Networks the meeting was an “introductory conversation about what’s on the heart of the administration.” Gray went on to say future meetings will need to go into further depth. “It can’t just be about reacclimating, it has to be about just sentencing. That’s bigger than prison reform. You’re talking about judicial reform, you’re talking about prosecutorial reform, we didn’t get into that today.”

Gray was not a Trump supporter during the 2016 campaign and was criticized for meeting with the president. He told CNN’s Don Lemon that he felt he “was sent” to the meeting because of his faith, adding, “dialogue doesn’t mean agreement.”

The White House believes its success in passing prison reform in the House was due to efforts to reach out to non-traditional organizations within the black community, such as pastors. The administration hopes working with them again will help get prison reform through the Senate.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been leading the prison reform effort. It is a personal crusade for him. His father, Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in federal prison.