National Archives This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Roosevelt Room

1:55 P.M. EST

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 three 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 BEVIN:  Sure, 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.  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.

But I will say this: If you take nothing else away than this absolute fact — and communicate this to people — that 95-plus percent of everyone who is incarcerated is going to be released.  The vast majority — more than 95 percent will be released.  What are we doing as a society, at the federal level, at a state level, at local levels — what are we doing to ensure that they have been rehabilitated and that they can be re-assimilated?  We are good at removing, but we need to do more than simply remove people from society.

Something we’re battling with in Kentucky, as are other states — I look to states like Kansas and others who have done this well, Texas and Georgia, and Oklahoma.  Many are doing it well.  There’s no pride of ownership in any of this.  We want to steal good ideas from one another.  We want the best ideas to make their way forward, and I’m truly grateful to the President, to the Attorney General, and to others who are taking this seriously at the highest levels because it will make a transformative change in America.

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.

GOVERNOR BEVIN:  Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Governor Brownback, would you like to say something

GOVERNOR BROWNBACK:  Yeah.  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.

GOVERNOR BROWNBACK:  We have a Bureau of Prisons facility in Leavenworth, in our state, and they need them to do these sort of programs.

The biggest thing that we’ve gotten done that’s been successful have been mentoring programs, private person-to-person mentoring programs.  We’ve got 7,500 matches that we’ve made.  Because most people, when they come out of prisons, they don’t have many relationships that are reliable or good for them to get back on their feet.

And that has 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.

GOVERNOR 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 SESSIONS:  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?

MR. SCHLAPP:  Sure.  Yeah, 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.

But one thing that’s interesting is, when you look at this crime recidivism, and it’s too high — the rate is too high.  People need to have a job.  They need to be able to get hired.  They need to feel the pride and the ownership of a job.  And the fact that this economy is rolling, and that these regulations and taxes and everything are going in the right direction, it’s giving hope to a lot of people.  So that’s the first step.

Now we got to do the right things on the public policy.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brooke, how about you?

MS. 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.

But about 10 years ago, we decided that it was time that we really look at criminal justice reform because America has 5 percent of the world’s population, but we have 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated.  And when you think about 95 percent of those folks are all coming back out in the communities, what can we do as a society to make sure that they are reintegrated in a successful way, instead of going back into prison, which 400 [thousand] of 600,000 do.

So, in Texas, we changed our laws, we’ve shut eight 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 bring 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?


THE PRESIDENT:  You’re going to be finding out very soon.  You’ll be finding that out very soon.

Thank you.

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

Q    How do you think the physical will go tomorrow?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s going to go very well.  I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t.

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much everybody.

Q    (Inaudible) immigration?

THE PRESIDENT:  It better go well, otherwise the stock market will not be happy.  (Laughter.)


2:04 P.M. EST