By Judith Brouwer
I will admit that I am a sucker for bad reality TV. However, if I ever imagined an episode starring Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian, I would have thought that it would be a vastly different arrangement than them discussing prison reform in the Oval Office. Tracing back Trump’s road to the White House has become a somewhat exhausted topic, so let’s see instead how Kim Kardashian ended up there on the 31stof May, 2018.
It all started on Twitter, of course: Kardashian retweeted a video of Alicia Johnson on the 25thof October, 2017. Johnson is a first-time, non-violent drug offender who was sentenced to life without parole in 1997. The only way out of prison for her was clemency, which can only be granted by the US president. Her family made a video pleading for support from the public against this injustice. Alicia Johnson was in financial distress and did not know how to support her family after having been involved in drug trafficking. She played a minor part in the operation and turned her life around after landing in prison. However, she had no chance of getting out unless the president would pardon her. Kim Kardashian felt for her, called her lawyer, and then contacted Ivanka Trump. Within seven months, she managed to meet with the president in the White House, who granted Johnson a commutation of sentence. She was immediately released from prison.
However, Kim Kardashian is not done yet. She recently sat in on a listening session in the White House on clemency and prison reform. Two questions arise: why is prison reform needed and what does Kim Kardashian know about this topic?
America holds 25% of the imprisoned population in the world and has a incarceration rate that is six times bigger than that of China, which costs the US about $183 billion a year. Not only is there a ridiculous number of people in prison, nearly 80% of the prisoners are rearrested within five years of their release. In other words, the prison and sentencing system is in desperate need of change. Overflowing prisons in the US are a product of the overly punitive sentencing that plagues the judicial system.
There are two ways to solve this problem: sentencing reform and prison reform. Prison reform means that internal care in prisons will be improved and that there will be a stronger focus on rehabilitation, while sentencing reform aims to change the sentencing procedures so that fewer people will end up in prison, especially in cases like Alicia Johnson’s.
Democrats and Republicans are more or less on the same page in regards to prison reform; it is the sentencing reform that causes trouble. The Obama administration started investigating the possibilities in sentencing reform, but was unable to implement any substantial changes. Now, it is up to Trump, who has been trying to pass a bill on prison reform that would provide pregnant inmates with better care, release prisoners who are terminally ill, and focus on better rehabilitation for former prisoners.
Unfortunately, this does not tackle the problem of sentencing. There are many more people like Alicia Johnson due to the harsh punitive system in America. Trump’s promises to his voters to rigorously combat crime made him unwilling to change the form of sentencing- to the dismay of many people that worked on the issue for years. Improving internal conditions in prison is a good first step, but without tackling the overpopulation of prisons and its underlying causes, it is not enough.
Any person who is passionate about an issue and wants to help should be admired for it. However, it is unfair that there are thousands of imprisoned individuals like Alicia Johnson that do not get help of someone who is friends with the president’s daughter. The only sustainable way to help them is through systematic change. Does Kim Kardashian truly know how to initiate this change? The only thing she brings to the table is fame. But that might be just what this movement needs.
Judith Brouwer, Class of 2020, is a Law, Politics, and History major from Apeldoorn, Netherlands.
Image Source: https://s.abcnews.com/images/Politics/180905_wabc_kim_kardashian_prison_reform_white_house_hpMain_16x9_1600.jpg
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