Campaign season means ‘law and order.’ Can we break the habit?

OPINION — When mass incarceration in America gets political attention, it’s often so the issue can be used as a cudgel to attack opponents. Thus, the president Twitter-shames former Vice President Joe Biden for his role in promoting the 1994 crime bill even as Donald Trump’s own history of hounding the Central Park Five is highlighted in “When They See Us,” director Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries on the teens accused, convicted, imprisoned and eventually exonerated.

When Democrats and Republicans cooperated on a criminal justice reform bill late last year that made modest changes in the federal system, they congratulated themselves for getting something done in gridlocked Washington.

But it hardly solved the problem. That’s the message of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI. “The presidential election will be important setting the tone,” he told me at a recent appearance in Charlotte. “The hard work has to happen in North Carolina, in the state legislature on issues like sentencing, on issues like prisons, on issues like excessive punishment, and that’s true for every state in the country.”

The Criminal Justice Bill Shows Where the GOP Is on Race

OPINION — Sen. Tim Scott, Republican from South Carolina, was optimistic after the Senate passed an amended bill this week that makes bipartisan progress on an issue — criminal justice reform — that has divided lawmakers for years.

Scott, an original co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement: “By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward.”

The bill is considered a First Step, as it is named, toward addressing inequities in the system that disproportionately affect African-Americans and the poor, in everything from arrests to sentencing, and have contributed to a mass incarceration crisis. Criminal justice advocates will also point out that the changes are modest and apply only to the federal system, which truly makes this a first step. Yet it’s something.

Opinion: Working Around Trump on Issues That Matter

The kiss-and-make-up press conference with President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of the most awkward dates in the history of, well, dates, as my Roll Call colleague Walter Shapiro pointed out. They need each other, sure, but will tax cuts be the glue to hold intermittent and shaky truces together for any length of time?

Opinion: Trump’s Ratings Hold Steady, but Is He Losing Key Groups He Needs to Stay on Top?

“You’re fired!” was the reality show refrain of the now president of the United States, Donald Trump. So when, on the campaign trail, candidate Trump said, “I alone can fix it,” with “it” meaning whatever was ailing the country and each one of its citizens, it was easy to for someone looking for answers to transfer his my-way-or-the-highway TV decisiveness to Oval Office success.

Could “The Apprentice” boss have bought into his own hype on the way to the White House, forgetting the behind-the-scenes writers and producers, and the reality of life after the director yells, “Cut”?

Opinion: Trump Policies on Voting and Criminal Justice Quietly Move Country Backward

While the Trump administration is in a state of perpetual turmoil, some of its promised policies are proceeding as planned. Support from a Republican Congress is softening with each cringe-worthy headline about slips, leaks and feuds; still, its members, mindful of the president’s loyal base, are proceeding with caution.

And when you step back from the chaos, don’t expect to see any progress on other issues — such as voting rights and criminal justice reform — that once promised a bit of bipartisan cooperation.

 

Opinion: In North Carolina, the Good and Not-So-Good News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s North Carolina, so, of course, the good news is followed by that pesky dark cloud every time.

You would think everyone in the state would welcome the end of the long saga over House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, which was repealed recently in a compromise. That bill, which had compelled people to use the bathroom that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificates, also said cities could not follow Charlotte’s lead and enact their own anti-discrimination ordinances or a minimum wage and much more.