East Room

11:41 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Unfortunately, I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas.  Just took place moments ago.  We’re closely monitoring the situation, and federal authorities are coordinating with local officials.  This has been going on too long in our country.  Too many years.  Too many decades now.

We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack.  To the students, families, teachers, and personnel at Santa Fe High: We’re with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever.

My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others.  Everyone must work together, at every level of government, to keep our children safe.  May God heal the injured and may God comfort the wounded, and may God be with the victims and with the victims’ families.  Very sad day.  Very, very sad.

On another note — a very positive note — I’m honored to be here today with so many leaders from across the nation who are committed to the crucial issue of prison reform.

Joining us today are several members of my Cabinet who are working diligently on this issue: Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Zinke, Secretary Acosta, Secretary Perry, Secretary DeVos, and Acting Secretary Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the VA, and I’ll be informing him in a little while — he doesn’t know this yet — that we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be Secretary of the Veterans Administration.  (Applause.)  Fantastic.

I’m sorry that I ruined the surprise.  (Laughter.)  I’ll see you anyway.  We’re very close to getting Choice approved, and we had just approved VA Accountability, which, for almost 40 years, they could not get approved.  And now, as you know, we just had — the House just passed Choice, and it’s the finer level of choice.  We had different levels of choice: good, bad, okay, and really good.  And I think this falls into the “really good” category.  (Applause.)  It’s going to be a little more expensive, but that’s okay.  So important.

So we are really — we have so many terrific partners working on what we’re doing and the reason we’re here — prison reform at the state level — including two who are with us today, who have really been active, feel so strongly about it: Governor Mary Fallin and Governor Susana Martinez.  You’ve been fantastic.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

I also want to thank Van Jones, primarily because he constantly says such nice things about me.  (Laughter.)  He did.  He did.  Every once and a while, right?  Every once and a while he did.  He’s — hey.  He actually has on occasion.  Not too often, but — (laughter) — I’ll tell you what, though, it does feel good.  (Laughter.)

And I also want to thank, Van — I have to say, Jared Kushner, who has worked so hard on this issue.  (Applause.)  Really has.  Thank you.  We’re proud of you.  We’re proud of you.

Prison reform is an issue that unites people from across the political spectrum.  It’s an amazing thing.  Our whole nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.

Every year, over 620,000 inmates — primarily from state prisons — are released after completing their sentences.  For many, really, life outside of the prison is a tremendous struggle — I see it — to find a job, to stay off drugs, to avoid old habits that lead them back to a life of crime, back to prison.

Unfortunately, more than one-third of former federal prison inmates and more than three-quarters of state prisoners will be rearrested again within five years.  Nobody wins when former prisoners fail to adjust to life outside, or worse, end up back behind bars.  We want former inmates to find a path to success so they can support their families and support their communities.

Crucial to this effort is helping former prisoners find jobs.  As many as three in four individuals released from prison have difficulty finding work.  It is not merely a waste of money, but a waste of human capital — some incredible people — to put former inmates on public assistance instead of placing them into a steady job where they can pay taxes, contribute to their country, gain dignity and pride that comes with a career, love waking up in the morning and going to a job, making a lot more money than anything they can do.  Just really enjoying their life.

When we talk about our national program to hire American, this must include helping millions of former inmates get back into the workforce as gainfully employed citizens.  (Applause.)

At the heart of our prison reform agenda is expanding prison work and the programs so that inmates can reenter society with the skills to get a job.  We also want more mental health services so released inmates can cope with the challenges of life on the outside.  And some of those challenges are not easy.

We’re developing more effective drug treatment so that former prisoners can remain drug-free.  Drugs are playing a tremendously big role in our lives — in so many lives — not only having to do with prisoners, but having to do with people that never thought they’d be addicted, that never thought they’d have a problem like this, that are having a really hard time coping — drugs.  We’re doing a big, big job on drugs.  It is a scourge in this country.  (Applause.)

In this effort, we are not just absolving prisoners of their central role in their own rehabilitation.  There is no substitute for personal accountability, and there is no tolerance for those who take advantage of society’s generosity to prey upon the innocent.

However, if we want more prisoners to take charge of their own lives, then we should work to give them the tools to stand on their own two feet.  They’re going to love it.  They’re going to be great at it.  By the way, I have a friend; he hired three people.  They were prisoners, pretty hardline people.  I can tell you, two of the three, he said, are unbelievably outstanding.  It’s been four, five years now.  One, he said, is good.  But that’s life.  Right?  (Laughter.)  That’s life.  Some are okay.  He’s okay.  Not the greatest.  But he said two are superstars.  They would have never gotten the chance.

And one of the things that we are doing is we have created a great economy.  The economy is doing fantastically well, even better than you think in the stock market.  And the stock market is only being held back a little bit for one reason, although it’s up almost 40 percent since Election Day.  But they’re waiting to see the trade deals.  And I can tell you they’re going to be great trade deals.  It’s going to be great for our country.  Our country has been ripped off long enough.  And we are making great deals.

We’re meeting with China today, right after this.  We’re going to another meeting with China.  They’ve been taking out hundreds of billions of dollars.  That’s not good for people that get out of prison, and that’s not good for people that have never been in prison.  That’s bad for our country.  And we’re changing it around.  We’re changing a lot of those horrible trade deals where they take our jobs, they take our money.  We end up with no money, no taxes, no employment.  Not a good combination.

So the greatest thing we can do — the greatest thing I can do, aside from our programs that they’re working so hard on, is create a good work environment where it’s hard to get people.  Because then you take people that come out, you give them a chance, and then, like my friend said, they turn out to be outstanding.  Jobs are so important.  A great economy is so important.  And that’s what we have.  So it makes your job that much easier.

As we speak, legislation is working through Congress to reform our federal prisons.  My administration strongly supports these efforts, and I urge the House and Senate to get together — and there are a lot of senators, a lot of Congress people that want to get this passed — to work out their differences.  Get a bill to my desk.  I will sign it, and it’s going to be strong, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be what everybody wants.  You’re all in line, I think.  You’re all looking for the same thing.  So we’re going to have something that’s going to make you very proud.  Really, very proud.  We want — like we do with veterans choice, we want the finest — the finest prison reform that you can have anywhere.  The finest.  That’s very important.  You make sure you both agree.  Okay?  (Applause.)

And, Van, if we’re going to go through the process, it’s just as hard to go through the process and get a good bill as it is a bad bill.  So let’s get it right.  Will you please make sure?  Okay?  (Laughter.)  And if you see something you don’t like, call me.  We’ll get it changed before we sign it and have to go through the whole process again.  (Applause.)  All right?  We’ll do that.  You all know what I mean, right?

Working together, we can restore the rule of law, keep dangerous criminals off our streets, and help former inmates get a second chance at life — and a second chance that many of them will really succeed at, if only given the chance.

America is a nation that believes in the power of redemption.  America is a nation that believes in second chances, and third chances, in some cases.  And, I don’t know, I guess even fourth chances.  I don’t know about that.  (Laughter.)

That’s where I think you and I may differ.  You know, we’ll go two or three, but maybe we won’t go that extra length.  Okay?  It’s a little more liberal in that way, but that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  But we’re both well intentioned, I can tell you that.

And America is a nation that believes that the best is always yet to come.  I want to again thank everyone here today.  Very special people.  Very important thing that we’re doing.  This has never been done in our country.  It’s never been done.  We’re going to give people that chance, and we’re going to give people a chance at great success.

A friend of mine told me that when people get out of prison, they’re all excited.  And then they go and they have that stigma; they can’t get a job.  People don’t want to hire them.  They can’t get that chance.  And when they do, in many cases — not in all cases, but in many cases, they just turn out to be outstanding.  Better than other people.

So we’re going to make our communities more secure, and we’re going to make our country more prosperous.  And together, we will make America safer, and stronger, and greater than ever before.  And I can tell you, as far as people getting out of prison, it’s going to be far, far, far greater than ever before.  You’re going to get that chance, you’re going to really make everyone proud, and you’re going to be proud of yourselves.

So it’s an honor to be with you.  I want to thank everybody for working so hard on this.  It’s — so many of the people I recognize in the room.  This is literally their most important thing.  We have so many different things — economic development.  This is literally — and I can speak for at least five or six of the people I see — this is literally the most important thing they work on.

So it’s an honor to have helped, and we’re going to get something that’s really going to be outstanding.  Best — it will be the best of its kind anywhere in the world, that I can promise you.  It really will.  Okay?  (Applause.)

So God bless you all.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END

11:57 A.M. EDT