- The first prisoner released under the criminal-justice reforms President Donald Trump signed in December has proposed a unique idea to ensure other prisoners can get second chances, too.
- Matthew Charles, whom Trump honored at the State of the Union on Tuesday, suggested in a Washington Post op-ed that federal prisoners be given the opportunity to be re-sentenced after serving 15 years.
- “People would not be guaranteed release, but they would be given an opportunity to be resentenced by a judge,” Charles wrote. “Anyone who wants and deserves a second chance would be able to demonstrate that within 15 years.”
- Data show that the vast majority of federal prisoners are incarcerated due to drug, property, and public order crimes, rather than violent crimes.
President Donald Trump sparked a rare moment of bipartisan celebration during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, praising a former prisoner who became the first person released under the criminal justice reforms he signed into law in December.
Matthew Charles was released from prison for the second time on January 3, after serving more than 21 years of a 35-year sentence for selling crack cocaine.
Now, Charles said he wants to ensure he’s not the only prisoner given a second chance. In a Washington Post op-ed, Charles said he spent last week in Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers to consider stronger prison reforms.
He proposed a radical law that he said would “encourage prisoners to improve themselves” – by allowing all federal prisoners to earn a second chance at freedom after serving a certain length of their sentence, perhaps after 15 years.
“People would not be guaranteed release, but they would be given an opportunity to be resentenced by a judge,” he wrote. “The judge could determine whether they had used their time in prison to atone for their crimes and make changes for the better. If not, they would continue to serve their original sentence.”
Charles said he knew some would criticise the idea as being “too lenient,” but he wrote that 15 years is more than enough time for someone to prove they deserve redemption.
“From what I saw during my years behind bars, anyone who wants and deserves a second chance would be able to demonstrate that within 15 years,” he wrote.
‘Our justice system shouldn’t depend on luck’
Charles garnered national attention after a whirlwind of court decisions resulted in his release from prison – then forced him to return less than two years later.
A judge orignally released him in 2016 after the Obama administration changed its sentencing guidelines, but a federal appeals court reversed the judge’s ruling and ordered him to return to prison to complete his sentence.
Charles’ story went viral in 2017 when Nashville Public Radio profiled him, detailing his efforts to rebuild his life after prison and how he volunteered each morning at a local food pantry even after he finished his mandatory community service hours.
In his address on Tuesday, Trump praised Charles for his self-improvement efforts both in and out of prison, noting the more than 30 Bible correspondence courses he took, as well as his work teaching GED classes and mentoring other inmates.
“America is a nation that believes in redemption,” Trump said. “Thank you Matthew. Welcome home.”
Charles’ idea to grant opportunities for resentencing after 15 years would apply only to the federal prison system, which represents a tiny fraction of the estimated 2.3 million incarcerated people across the country.
Data from the Prison Policy Initiative, which tracks mass incarceration trends, show that federal jails and prisons held roughly 225,000 inmates in 2018 – a far cry from the millions of others in state prisons, local jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centres.
But of those 225,000 federal inmates, data show that the vast majority are incarcerated due to drug, property, and public order crimes, and just 13,000 have been convicted of violent crimes.
“I got lucky. Our justice system shouldn’t depend on luck,” Charles wrote. “The First Step Act is in place – now it should be used to make real change and help families. And let’s not lose any time in making a Next Step Act, because everyone deserves a second chance.”
- Read more from INSIDER:
- Critics are warning that the criminal-justice-reform bill being hailed as a bipartisan victory doesn’t go nearly far enough
- Attorney general nominee William Barr helped write the handbook on mass incarceration in the 1990s – but he said he realises times have changed
- The most powerful moment at the State of the Union was a win for Democrats that Trump had no control over
- The ‘future’ of the Democratic Party, Stacey Abrams, made her national debut in the party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.