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Remarks During a Meeting on Prison Reform and an Exchange With Reporters

January 11, 2018

The President. Thank you very much. And today we are going to be discussing the important topic of prison reform. I want to thank Attorney General Sessions, Governor Bevin of Kentucky, Governor Brownback of Kansas, and other prison reform experts who are here. We have the best in the country.

We'll be discussing a number of opportunities to improve our prison system to better promote public safety and to help former prisoners reenter society as productive citizens. Very important. Very big topic. It's become a very big topic, especially, I think, over the last 12 months or so. We've been focused on it very strongly.

We support our law enforcement partners, and we're working to reduce crime and put dangerous offenders behind bars. At the same time, we want to ensure that those who enter the justice system are able to contribute to their communities after they leave prison, which is one of many very difficult subjects we're discussing, having to do with our great country.

The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system. We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance, and make our community safe. Many prisoners end up returning to crime, and they end up returning to prison. Two-thirds of the 650,000 people released from prison each year are arrested again within 3 years.

We can help break this vicious cycle through job training—very important, job training—mentoring, and drug addiction treatment. And you know how we're focused on drugs pouring into our country and drug addiction. It's a big problem, even as we speak of this subject. We'll be very tough on crime, but we will provide a ladder of opportunity to the future.

The Governors with us today have pioneered reforms—they've been very, very successful, and we appreciate your being here very much—that can inspire change. Kansas improved its juvenile justice system to help make sure young offenders do not become repeat offenders. Kentucky is providing job training to inmates and helping them to obtain professional licenses upon release, and it's been very successful. And he's been a great Governor, I will tell you that—my friend.

My administration is committed to helping former inmates become productive, law-abiding members of society. And I want to thank you all for being with us and thank you for the discussion. And maybe we'll take a couple of minutes and, Governor, you might want to say something as to prison reform. You've been very successful.

Governor Matthew G. Bevin of Kentucky. Sure. No, I appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you truly to those of you in the media for being here and for covering this. It does matter. If there—you'll hear a lot from people who know far more about this than myself if you stay in here as we go around the horn.

[At this point, Gov. Bevin made brief remarks, concluding as follows.]

Gov. Bevin. The final point I'll say is this: The workforce in America demands this, is begging for this. There are millions of jobs that need to be filled. We have millions of people—2 million people—currently in our penal system, 95 percent of whom are going to come out. We need them to become a functional part of our economic society. And so that is really what we're here for today.

The President. Thank you, Governor.

Gov. Bevin. Thank you, sir.

The President. Governor Brownback, would you like to say something?

Governor Samuel D. Brownback of Kansas. Yes. First, I want to thank you for taking this topic up. I don't know of a recent Presidency that's taken the topic up in a serious way. It's one that needs discussion, and it needs focus. And I just—I deeply appreciate you doing it.

The President. Thank you.

[Gov. Brownback made brief remarks, concluding as follows.]

Gov. Brownback. And that's cut the recidivism rate, for those 7,500, in half: from 20 to under 10 percent. And I just think that makes sense for us to do to help them out.

The President. Absolutely.

Gov. Brownback. And so I applaud you, and I really think it's an important topic to take up.

The President. Well, thank you very much, Governor.

Jeff, would you like to say something?

Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions III. Thank you, Mr. President. I look forward to hearing from this group of people who are really a great group. Jared, I appreciate your leadership on this and pushing this.

We believe that we're already spending money in the Federal prison system. Frankly, we got a report late last year that it's not—the money isn't being spent well. Our new prison commissioner is committed to doing a better job on reentry programs and job training programs. And so, if we do this right, I think we can make progress.

The President. Good. Thank you very much.

Matt, would you like to say something before we go back to a private discussion?

American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew A. Schlapp. Sure. Yes. Look, I think this is one of the issues that people from the community I spend a lot of time with—conservatives—are focused on. I also think there's people on the other side of the political spectrum that have a heart and want to make sure that people's lives can be put back together.

[Mr. Schlapp made brief remarks, concluding as follows.]

Mr. Schlapp. Now we've got to do the right things on the public policy.

The President. Very good.

Brooke, how about you?

Texas Public Policy Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Brooke L. Rollins. Well, thank you for taking this on. Thank you for making it an issue. You know I think about your great vision for America, which is to make it great again, and I think about all that you and your team have done on tax reform, and regulatory reform, and coming into welfare reform. Those are all things that the State of Texas has been doing for a long time, as you know.

[Ms. Rollins made brief remarks, concluding as follows.]

Ms. Rollins. So, in Texas, we changed our laws, we've shut 8 prisons down, we've decreased our incarceration rate by 20 percent, but the most important part of all of that is, our crime rate is down 31 percent in the State of Texas since we undertook all of these reforms.

The President. That's fantastic.

Ms. Rollins. This works. And it is a beautiful, beautiful policy issue because it's bipartisan. Everyone agrees that we want those who are coming back out into our communities to have safer streets, to go back to their families, to have stronger families, and be able to work in the communities where they once resided.

So, amen, and we applaud you for really bringing this on. Thank you.

The President. Well, thank you very much, Brooke. I appreciate that that very much.

Thank you very much everybody. Thank you.


Q. Mr. President, what's your current thinking on Iran, sir? On Iran, what's your current thinking?

Gov. Bevin. Focus.

The President. You're going to be finding out very soon. You'll be finding that out very soon.

Thank you.

Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III

Q. Mr. President, have you ruled out a meeting with Mueller? Or is this still something that you——

The President. Thank you very much.

Border Security

Q. How do you think the physical will go tomorrow? How do you think the physical will go tomorrow?

The President. I think it's going to go very well. [Laughter] I'll be very surprised if it doesn't.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Q. Mr. President, why did you backtrack on your stance on FISA?

The President. Thank you very much everybody.

Immigration Reform Legislation/Stock Market

Q. [Inaudible]—immigration?

The President. It'd better go well; otherwise, the stock market will not be happy. [Laughter]

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:55 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Attorney General Sessions referred to White House Senior Adviser Jared C. Kushner; and Mark S. Inch, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons. A reporter referred to S. 139. A portion of these remarks could not be verified because the audio was incomplete.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks During a Meeting on Prison Reform and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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