President Trump slammed “bad leadership” in Chicago for failing to prevent gun violence after latest mass-shooting weekend, saying such carnage shouldn’t happen on American streets “in a million years.”
“In terms of our nation, nobody would believe it could be happening,” Mr. Trump said as he convened a meeting with state leaders on prison and criminal-justice reform. “It’s called bad leadership. Bad stuff happening. There’s no reason in a million years that something like that should be happening in Chicago.”
Last weekend, about 70 people were hurt and 11 were killed in Chicago by gun violence. The victims ranged in age from 11 to 63; one teenager was shot while riding a bike.
Critics are accusing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who’s running for re-election, for understaffing the police force and ignoring low-income neighborhoods.
“We must strengthen community bonds with law enforcement, including cities like Chicago, that have been an absolute and total disaster,” Mr. Trump said. “We want every child to grow up in a safe neighborhood, surrounded by families that are loving and helpful, and with a path to great education and a lifelong career.”
The president hosted the meeting at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, with several governors and state attorneys-general to discuss solutions for prison reform and changes in the criminal justice system.
Mr. Trump supports the First Step Act, bipartisan prison reform legislation that the House passed overwhelmingly in May. The measure would spend $250 million over 5 years to expand vocational training, education, and rehabilitation programs in federal prisons.
The bill now appears to be on track in the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, wants to add provisions to address changes in sentencing guidelines.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, would ease federal sentencing guidelines for chronic non-violent drug offenders and eliminate the “three-strike” provision for mandatory life imprisonment. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the proposal a “grave error.”
Mr. Trump noted that he met privately last week with Mr. Grassley and other lawmakers, where they discussed combining the measures.
“We’re working very hard in the Senate to refine it and pass it into law,” the president said. “We think we’ll be successful.”
Noting Mr. Grassley’s concerns, Mr. Trump said, “we also agreed we must be tough on crime, especially on criminals in trafficking of drugs and lots of other trafficking. That’s going to remain tough or even tougher.”
There are more than 183,000 inmates in federal prisons, down from a high of 219,000 in 2013, according to the Bureau of Prisons. But that 2013 population had nearly doubled since 1995, due in part to longer mandatory sentences under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
Mr. Trump has directed his son-in-law, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, to lead the administration’s effort on prison reform. Participants said Thursday the goal is to provide inmates with better education and job skills so they can take advantage of opportunities in the strong economy.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said 70 percent of inmates in the state do not have a high-school degree.
“If you give them a blue-collar skill, you reduce recidivism by 24 percent,” Mr. Deal told the president, adding that Georgia has reduced the number of black male prisoners by 30 percent in recent years.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi said prison ministry must be an integral part of reform efforts.
“If their hearts aren’t changed, their lives will not be changed,” Mr. Bryant said.
Gov. Doug Burgum, North Dakota Republican, said the administration’s work on opioid addiction is also crucial to helping inmates break the cycle of crime and imprisoment.
“We’re trying to create better neighbors, not better prisoners,” Mr. Burgum said. “It’s education, it’s career skills, it’s treatment — those are the things we have to focus on.”
The president said he didn’t expect the positive reception that he’s received for the effort.
We have tremendous political support. It surprises me,” Mr. Trump said. “People I would least suspect are behind it 100 percent.”
He said all Americans should benefit from the strong economy and good jobs.
“Our first duty is to our citizens, including those who have taken the wrong path but are seeking redemption,” Mr. Trump said.
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