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Van Jones: Conservatives Are ‘Leaders’ on Criminal-Justice Reform

CNN host Van Jones and Matt Schlapp take part in a conversation on justice reform at the Conservative Political Action Conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., February 28, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

CNN analyst Van Jones credited the conservative movement with galvanizing support for criminal-justice reform during a Thursday appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Appearing beside CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp, Jones discussed the sweeping criminal-justice-reform package passed in December, which aims to reduce mass incarceration and high recidivism rates by expanding the pool of inmates eligible to participate in early-release programs, among other policy changes.

“The conservative movement in this country, unfortunately from my point of view, is now the leader on this issue of reform,” Jones said. “You look at Mississippi, a rock-ribbed, total conservative former jailer is now the governor. Governor Bryan cut the prison population and crime at the same time. [Governor Nathan] Deal in Georgia cut the prison population and crime at the same time. . . . What you’re seeing now is Republican governors being tough on the dollars. Tough on crime and shrinking the prison population.”

Jones, a Democrat who played a pivotal role in rallying liberal support for the reform package, went on to lament the electoral and political consequences of conservative leadership on the issue for his party.

Jones worked closely with Jared Kushner and other Trump administration officials to whip support for the bill on Capitol Hill, and pushed back when it encountered opposition from progressive lawmakers and activists who felt it did not do enough to redress historical grievances.

The legislation, known as the First Step Act, increases the pool of inmates eligible to receive so-called “good-time credits” and reduces mandatory minimum sentences for many drug-related and nonviolent offenses. It also mandates the allocation of more resources for education and vocational training within prisons.

In addition to progressive opposition to what was viewed as insufficient reform, a number of conservative lawmakers, led by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), argued that the bill’s potential benefits were outweighed by the possibility that it would make certain classes of violent offenders eligible for early release, which, they predicted, would result in an increased crime rate.

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