President Donald Trump slipped in a line about “reforming our prisons” in his State of the Union address that’s highly doubtful, given the actions he’s taken during his first year in office. Instead, expect Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to revive the war on drugs that crippled the Black community through racist sentencing policies.
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Trump signaled that he plans to “get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers” to stem the opioid drug epidemic. “It is surreal that Trump would call for prison reform and an escalation of the war on drugs in the same speech,” Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement following the speech.
Conservative news outlets are suggesting that Trump is taking a softer approach to America’s mass incarceration problem. But that’s a ploy to help make the president appear open to working with reformers. Trump showed his true agenda when he promised that the “American carnage stops right here and stops right now” in his inauguration speech. Since taking office, the Trump and Sessions team has halted President Barack Obama’s progress toward reforming the racially biased criminal justice system. They rescinded Obama’s plan to scale back the use of private prisons and reversed Obama’s directive about sentencing reforms.
Pay attention to Trump and Sessions’ repeated calls to crack down on violent crime, based on their false premise that it has increased. The truth is that violent crime has decreased over the past two decades, even though there are pockets of violence in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, according to the Pew Research Center. The violent crime rate fell 48 percent between 1993 and 2016, based on FBI data of reported crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which takes into account unreported crimes, found that the rate fell 74 percent during that same period.
Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalized marijuana. That reversal will impact the Black community, which has been a target for the enforcement of marijuana laws. While marijuana use is roughly equal among Black and Whites, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to get locked up for possession of the drug, a comprehensive ACLU study found.
When Trump talks about prison reform, don’t take him at his word. He’s not talking about finding ways to make the justice system fair.