Jared Kushner Can't Get Lawmakers to Support His Prison Reform Bill

The House Judiciary Committee's decision to postpone a vote that was planned for Wednesday on a prison reform bill backed by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has criminal justice advocates worried they "could end up with nothing," a former U.S. attorney said.

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Despite Kushner's rallying efforts on Capitol Hill for the bill, the committee put off the vote until the week of May 7 as Senate leaders from both parties pushed back, sources in the House told Politico.

The delay was concerning, said Timothy Heaphy, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration and attended two meetings Kushner hosted at the Capitol last week with bipartisan congressional leaders and advocates. Heaphy is a member of Law Enforcement Leaders, a nonpartisan group of current and former police chiefs, sheriffs, attorneys general and federal and state prosecutors, who desire both prison and sentencing reform.

"I'm nervous, I think we could end up with nothing and that is a bad thing," Heaphy told Newsweek on Thursday. "We need sentencing reform and prison reform. I want to see both and I hope that that happens over time and I am absolutely worried that we won't get anything."

At the meetings he held, Kushner appeared "very engaged and seemed very personally interested" in prison reform and suggested that if approved, it would build momentum for the more polarizing issue of sentencing reform, Heaphy said last week.

Today, over 60 current and former police chiefs and prosecutors —all members of LEL— sent a letter to the Senate and House leadership calling on Congress to pass sentencing reform, as a part of the White House’s commitment to reduce recidivism.https://t.co/H68gTQSXs9

— Law Enforcement Leaders (@LawLeadGroup) April 23, 2018

Some lawmakers and advocates have questioned Kushner's sincerity in pressing for prison reform separately from sentencing reform, which Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have opposed.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat, advised members not to support a prison reform bill that did not address sentencing reform, an issue they have negotiated for months, Politico reported based on House sources.

Durbin denied to the media outlet that he told House members to stifle the bill that only tackles prison reform, but added, "the two need to be together."

"We think they're both important ideas, and the notion of running on one and not on the other is just not acceptable," he said.

Heaphy opined that the delay "is a function of that" disagreement among lawmakers.

"We can't just do one and think we're going to have a measurable difference on recidivism and true justice reform," Heaphy said. "You really have to do both."

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner participates in a prison reform roundtable with President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on January 11. Mark Wilson/Getty Images