President Donald Trump ran a factually inaccurate ad trying to promote his criminal justice reform using Alice Johnson as his spokesperson. The problem is that Alice Johnson was not a benefactor of Trump's criminal justice reform, she had thousands of Americans advocating on her behalf, and one, in particular, was Kim Kardashian, who went to the White House to lobby Trump personally.
Johnson was unfairly sent to prison for life using absurd drug laws in a failed criminal system. She was convicted in 1996 for being involved in a cocaine-trafficking organization. Trump granted her clemency; his criminal justice reform law wasn't involved at all.
According to the Washington Post, last April, Trump wanted to bring Gregory Allen and other former inmates to the White House after their release. The problem was that the Justice Department didn't want to let Allen out of prison.
"In fact, even as he and Trump shared a joyous embrace on television, federal prosecutors were trying to persuade a judge to put Allen back behind bars," the Post wrote. "The president has repeatedly pointed to the First Step Act as one of his administration's chief bipartisan achievements and one for which he is personally responsible. But cases like Allen's expose a striking rift between the White House allies who supported the law and the Justice Department officials now working to limit the number of inmates who might benefit from it."
"DOJ is pushing against the will of the people, the will of Congress, the will of the president," said conservative activist Holly Harris, of the Justice Action Network.
Criminal justice reporter Radley Balko explained in a 2018 Post column that the decision to support the criminal justice reform package was strange given the fact that Trump also supported bringing Bill Barr to be the attorney general.
"Barr didn't just support some of the worst criminal-justice policies of the 1990s, he wrote and helped implement many of them. While attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, he oversaw the publication of a report called "The Case for More Incarceration." In 1994, after leaving DOJ, he co-wrote a plan to abolish parole in Virginia. He publicly supported the first, most draconian version of Trump's "Muslim ban," and has a long record of anti-immigration advocacy. The ACLU points out that as AG, "Barr ordered telephone companies "to turn over lists of all phone calls from the USA" to dozens of countries under a Drug Enforcement Administration program that was a precursor to the bulk phone metadata program disclosed by Edward Snowden and repealed by Congress in the 2015 USA Freedom Act," wrote Balko.
As former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance explained, Johnson's release was a blessing, "but there are thousands more like her in prison. We need a real pardon process that works fairly. We need real criminal justice reform. Don't be fooled."
So far, Trump's criminal justice reform has accounted for 18 pardons and 6 commutations, the DOJ said. For the families of those 24 families, it's a huge victory, but there are far more just like them deserving of being free. True criminal justice reform would be helping many more than just 24 people.
Groups like The Innocence Project, The Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Marshall Project, and others are still working on getting better criminal justice reforms passed that deal with sentencing, juvenile justice reform, and other updates that are needed to fix the system.