Trump deserves praise for accepting Benedict College invite

Whether you support or oppose President Donald Trump, you should applaud Trump’s decision to accept an invitation to visit Columbia Friday and attend Benedict College’s forum on criminal justice reform.

Trump’s appearance should be hailed because it will appropriately highlight how criminal justice reform has become one of the few issues capable of bringing diverse ideologies toward common ground.

What other issue has had the power to not only unite numerous Republicans and Democrats, but even individuals ranging from conservative icon Newt Gingrich to DeRay Mckesson, one of the driving forces behind Black Lives Matter?

Indeed it’s fitting that Trump will speak at the same forum that will later feature several of the Democratic presidential candidates seeking to oust the Republican from the White House next year.

But it’s clear why criminal justice reform has emerged as an issue that transcends partisanship.

More Americans now realize that while our country incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation — we have an estimated 2.1 million prisoners, according to a 2018 Justice Department report — just locking up people is not a sustainable approach.

More Americans now realize that while we spend billions each year to keep our prisons bursting at the seams, it hasn’t always represented an efficient use of our tax dollars.

And more Americans now realize that we must be receptive to new strategies that can reform our criminal justice system while also producing better results for offenders and society alike.

What’s encouraging is that this greater awareness is already leading to actual progress.

Many states are now pursuing “smart justice” policies – alternative sentencing, diversion programs for those with substance abuse or mental health issues, etc. — that save taxpayer money yet still appropriately punish nonviolent offenders without jailing them.

And the First Step Act, which was pushed through by the Trump administration last year and approved with bipartisan support, has numerous sensible reforms that range from revising drug sentencing guidelines to expanding programs designed to reduce recidivism among released offenders.

We can reform our criminal justice system without sacrificing public safety.

That’s a fact.

And that reality is why criminal justice reform has become an issue that’s stirred so many people – from so many different perspectives – to raise their voices to champion.

Trump should be applauded for accepting an opportunity to add his voice as well – and to do so in our city .