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EDITORIAL: With First Step Act, Jared Kushner taps into our common humanity

Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner stepped down as the head of his family firm two years ago to become a White House adviser. | AP Photo

When we walk in the shoes of others, justice finds a way. Ask Jared Kushner.

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was the driving force behind the passage of bill a that extensively overhauls our nation’s prison and sentencing laws. President Trump signed the bill on Friday.


The First Step Act, as it is called, is not everything that criminal justice reform activists might want. But it does accomplish a lot — and remarkably so for a Republican-controlled Congress and president who otherwise have shown little compassion for the poor, the unlucky and anybody else who is up against it. It isn’t lost on us that the ink was barely dry on the First Step Act before Trump forced an unnecessary partial government shutdown early Saturday because Democrats are refusing to go along with his plan to set aside $5 billion to build his ridiculous border wall.

But, on the prison-reform issue, there was Kushner. Who did care. Because this was personal for him. He had seen his own father, Charles, go off to prison for 14 months for tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal donations.

And that created within him a well of empathy.

“Jared is committed in a way you can only be when you’ve seen your daddy hurt,” Van Jones, a liberal CNN host who has worked with Kushner on the issue, told the New York Times.

As a result of this bill, thousands of federal inmates will be able to leave prison earlier. They will be given credit for good behavior and for participating in rehabilitation programs. Some mandatory minimum sentences will be eased, and judges will be allowed greater leeway in sentencing.

Trump deserves praise for this one. He signed the bill on Friday knowing it could come back to haunt him politically — all it would take is one early-released inmate committing some headline-grabbing crime. But it was Kushner who made it happen.

If there is a homily for the holidays in this, it’s that we’re at our best, as individuals and as country, when we allow ourselves to be touched by the hard luck of others and act on that compassion.

The First Step Act became law because Kushner wanted to do right by his father, whom he felt had been unfairly prosecuted, even if others might see it otherwise. The gay rights movement rocketed forward when all of us, even if we were not LGBQT, came to understand that a family member, friend or co-worker was.

Injustice ceased to be an abstraction. It was up close and personal.

If an undocumented immigrant child were everybody’s child, our immigration laws would grow a heart overnight. If the homeless man living under a Chicago viaduct were everybody’s brother, our city’s affordable housing shortage would end instantly.

We could all do a better job of tapping into our common humanity.

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