2018 News

Prison reform ‘unites people from across the political spectrum’

The White House hosted a high-profile summit meeting on federal prison reform on May 18, and Carrie Pettus-Davis, who helped to organize it, sat among cabinet members.

The summit “was a message to the world that the United States is ready to change how it does incarceration,” she says.

Pettus-Davis co-leads the Smart Decarceration Initiative at the Brown School’s Center for Social Development. One of the national Grand Challenges for Social Work is to promote smart decarceration.

The summit was an effort to bridge the partisan divide, with President Trump urging Congress to pass a prison reform bill.

“Get a bill to my desk,” Trump said to the gathered activists, experts and officials. “I will sign it, and it’s going to be strong, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be what everybody wants.”

One of the reasons Pettus-Davis attended the summit is because she is leading a multisite randomized controlled trial of a prisoner reentry services model. She has met with Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, and others a couple of times at the White House, she says. “They are very interested in learning the results of this research as it comes in.”

Kushner is leading the White House prison effort. “This is an issue I had personal experience with, so I spent some time thinking, from the White House, what can be done,” Kushner said in public remarks. His father, a New York developer, spent 14 months in federal prison after he was convicted of political corruption charges.

“Prison reform is an issue that unites people from across the political spectrum,” Trump said. “It’s an amazing thing. Our whole nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.”

Pettus Davis, who left Washington University in St. Louis in late May to continue her research at Florida State University, said the president’s and vice president’s remarks at the summit were promising for the advancement of the Grand Challenge to promote smart decarceration.

“This is incredibly positive rhetoric from an administration that has previously mostly highlighted tough-on-crime stances,” she said. “Trump and [Mike] Pence were both very enthusiastic about this administration being the administration to reform prisons and usher in evidence-driven reentry approaches. The rhetoric alone is a game changer in a positive way.”