By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Criminal justice reform advocates said they expect Donald Trump will embrace moderate change once he is in the White House, toning down the punitive but undefined "law and order" image he projected on the campaign trail.
In another instance of experts trying to pin down Trump on an issue he used on the stump without offering much detail, two groups that have met recently with his staff said they expect him to back mainstream sentencing and corrections reforms.
A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
In a meeting a few weeks ago, Trump's staff was "very receptive" to arguments that crime rates have dropped in states that have reduced prison populations through sentencing reform, said Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan coalition that spearheads legislative efforts to lower sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Democratic President Barack Obama, many Republicans in Congress and several of Trump's conservative mentors have embraced changing sentencing standards and better prisons.
During the campaign, Trump denounced Obama as being too soft on inner-city violence and for extremist plots against the United States and attacks on police officers.
For instance, in the Oct. 19 presidential debate with Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump said: "We need law and order, but we need justice, too. Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs."
But in the same month, Trump's vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said he was proud that Indiana approved criminal justice reform during his tenure as governor.
"We have got to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that do reflect an institutional bias in criminal justice," he said.
Tim Head, executive director of the conservative Christian Faith and Freedom Coalition, said his group has held advisory talks with the president-elect's staff in recent days.
Head said Trump's Justice Department is likely to emphasize greater "support for law enforcement, maybe deference for law enforcement" than Obama did.
But Head and Harris also both noted that Republicans close to Trump, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have advocated for reforms such as lowering sentences for some nonviolent crimes, improving prison conditions and helping former prisoners find jobs and housing.
Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are reportedly on a short list of conservatives whom Trump is considering for U.S. attorney general.
Inimai Chettiar, director of justice programs at the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, said Trump made some "troubling" campaign-trail claims. One, she said, was arguing that rising crime justifies stop-and-frisk tactics and other police methods that critics say unfairly target minorities.
However, she said, she also hoped the president-elect would fall in line with members of the Republican Party who support bipartisan criminal justice reform.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)