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Is Trump’s criminal justice plan ‘rehabilitative and redemptive?’

President Trump has outlined a new bipartisan agreement on criminal justice reform. The plan ends the “three strikes” policy mandating life in prison for third-time drug offenders and adds incentives for low-risk inmates. Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, which advocated for the proposal, joins Judy Woodruff to explain why he thinks the reform “makes communities safer.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is backing a plan to overhaul the nation's criminal justice laws. If passed, it would be the biggest change in a generation.

    Mr. Trump outlined the new bipartisan agreement this afternoon at the White House.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The legislation I'm supporting today contains many significant reforms, including the following.

    First, it will provide new incentives for low-risk inmates to learn the skills they need to find employment, avoid old habits and follow the law when they're released from prison.

    In many respects, we're getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals, of which, unfortunately, there are many. But we're treating people differently for different crimes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Criminal justice reform has been an issue that has forged many unlikely political alliances.

    A driving force behind that bipartisanship is also perhaps an unlikely source, Koch Industries, A company best known for the Koch Brothers and their support for conservative causes and candidates.

    Mark Holden is general counsel for Koch Industries. And he has been a key player behind today's proposed legislation. And he joins me now.

    Mark Holden, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Mark Holden:

    Thank you. Thanks for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we heard a little bit just now from President Trump about what this represents. What more can you tell us would be the main difference if this legislation were to pass?

  • Mark Holden:

    Well, at the federal level, we really haven't had a lot of reforms that have been rehabilitative and redemptive, is what I would say.

    It's scaled back some of the more draconian parts of our criminal justice system. So, the First Step Act is what it is called. And it's focused in first part on prison rehabilitation programs, so, for people in federal prisons getting better while they're in prison, not becoming worse. So, there will be jobs, skills training, rehabilitation, drug therapy, those types of things.

    And these are evidence-based practices that have been shown to work in the states to reduce crime rates and reduce incarceration rates. All of this has happened in the states, and now it's working its way to the federal system as well.

    There's also — that passed through the House 360-59 back in May.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Right.

  • Mark Holden:

    Now, this bill that was announced today is the Senate version. And they have added four sentencing provisions to that, sentence reforms — sentencing reforms that we think really need to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That make it — make it lighter sentencing, in effect…

  • Mark Holden:

    Yes, exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … for those who have committed crimes that are not as serious.

  • Mark Holden:

    Right. It's for — it's targeting low-level nonviolent offenders.

    And they are reforms that will, for example, expand the drug safety valve. For people who are low-level drug offenders, they won't have to go to prison necessarily. Judges will have more discretion.

    There's also — it ends the three strikes and you're out life in prison penalty. There's still stiff mandatory minimums, up to 25 years, but it does away with the life imprisonment requirement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, as we understand it, Mark Holden, there's been — there's been real opposition to this.

    There are folks — in fact, there are folks on both sides of the issues, folks who think this is wrong because it's not tough enough, it's too loose on criminals. Congress — rather, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been someone who's been opposed to this.

    But, on the left, you have people who argue we need more reform. How do you — what makes you think this is threading the needle just the right way?

  • Mark Holden:

    Well, I think it has enough — it's called the First Step Act for a reason. This is the first step, the first real comprehensive criminal justice reform measure that hopefully will make it through the Senate and then to the president's desk.

    The president's endorsement today was huge. It was very important. The police organizations, like the Fraternal Order of Police, who are now on board with these reforms, that was huge. They were at the podium with the president today.

    This shows that this is — it's the right approach. It's trying to help people who need a second chance get a second chance. It's helping people who are low-level offenders not have their lives ruined forever for something that happened on their worst day.

    And, again, going back to the experience of the states, this is all because of what the states have done in the last 10 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Holden:

    Like Texas, for example, where the criminal justice reform revolution began back in 2007.

    Since that time, Texas has closed down eight prisons. It saved over $4 billion in taxpayer money. And, most importantly, they have a crime rate they haven't seen this low since the 1960s.

    So, these reforms make communities safer, make law enforcement safer, and give people second chances. And that's what we should be looking for in our criminal justice system, so when people go to prison, it's a one-time occasion, they get better in prison, rehabilitated, and then they come out and they're a positive part of society and their communities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But even with all these positive arguments, we noticed today that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, when he was asked about this, made a point of saying, well, we have got other priorities, we have to think about funding the government, we have to think about the farm bill.

    He made it sound as if he's not sure this is a priority for him in the Senate. And that's going to be key.

  • Mark Holden:

    Right. It is going to be key. And it's a priority for the president. And it's a priority for a lot of Republican senators and Democrat senators.

    And we have had meetings with Leader McConnell where he's told us that there's going to be a whip count, and he told us directly that he thinks that the votes are there, and we're likely going to get the outcome that we want, which is a vote on this bill on the floor.

    So we're hoping that happens. I think that Congress can do a lot of things at once. And the criminal justice reform issues that we're talking about, the reality is, we need to do them as soon as possible. This really isn't that tough an issue anymore because of what's happened in the states. They have got this blueprint.

    It makes communities safer. It saves money. It saves lives. There's really not a good argument against it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, how convinced are you that President Trump is prepared to push this?

    We know Republican senators, most of them are going to listen to him. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been a big advocate. You have worked very closely with him.

  • Mark Holden:

    Jared has done an amazing job, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But is the president — I mean, how far is he prepared to go?

  • Mark Holden:

    Well, I don't know if you saw his speech today. He was very passionate about it. And he brought up Alice Johnson and her situation, Alice Johnson…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Mark Holden:

    … when he commuted her life sentence, as an example of some of the injustice in our system.

    He's very passionate about these issues, Jared Kushner is very passionate about the issues. We have a broad bipartisan coalition that is very passionate about these issues.

    I think that this is going to happen. And I think the president is going to drive it. And we're very supportive of what he's doing. He's doing a great job on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Holden, thank you very much.

  • Mark Holden:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We appreciate it.

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