CPAC is often criticized for hosting rhetorical speeches that offer little policy substance, but a panel entitled “States Are Leading the Way on Criminal Justice Reform” proved that stereotype to be incorrect.
Discussing an issue that too many avoid, moderator David Savafian from the ACU Foundation Center for Criminal Justice Reform and the panelists did a superb job of demonstrating work that is already being done, and offering ideas for the work to be done in the future.
Louisiana State Representative Julie Emerson (LA-39) emphasized her faith in her approach to criminal justice reform, and talked about her experiences as a new state rep working on an issue as complex as this:
“We need to be tough on crime, but we also need to be smart on crime.”
Her strong belief in family values as the bedrock of society have driven her to pursue policies that include chances for redemption for low-level offenders, thus allowing them and their families to move on to be successful in the future. She also discussed “ban the box” legislation in Louisiana, which requires employers to abstain requesting criminal history and background information until a candidate has reached the interview stage of job applications. Such legislation, if properly implemented, will remove some stigma from people with minor offenses on their record and will aid them in becoming reintegrated in society.
Marc Levin from Right On Crime’s Texas Public Policy Foundation discussed bold policy solutions to reforming our criminal justice system.
“We need to distinguish the people were mad at from the people we’re afraid of,” he said, citing a tendency to group together low-level offenders with those convicted of much worse crimes.
His work in Texas has produced incredible results: the state has seen a 14% decline in their prison population and a 29% decrease in crime. Conservatives, he said, are uniquely situated to deal with Criminal Justice Reform; fiscal responsibility is a trait that bodes well in such a field.
Pat Nolan from the ACU Foundation Center for Criminal Justice Reform discussed that the primary role of government in the justice system is to keep people safe, but also that a conservative approach to criminal justice reform should include seeking out the most effective methods of doing so.
Additionally, he pointed out the importance of impacting people’s lives while they are incarcerated and changing them for the better:
“If it’s just warehousing and releasing, we’re spending a lot of money and not changing anybody… to change someone, they must first know that you love them.”
Discussing the importance of mentors and volunteers working with inmates, Pat urged attendees to consider the impacts such compassion will have on low-level offenders and offered solutions that embraced such convictions.
Rob from American Legislative Exchange Council discussed the more efficient options that exist for dealing with the criminal justice system.
“The cost of incarcerating individuals who aren’t a threat to public safety doesn’t serve the public interest,” he said, and discussed that it is worth researching the other and more effective methods of reform that will reduce the cost to taxpayers, as well as prove more beneficial to those directly affected.
Additionally, he cited the several states that have enacted Justice Reinvestment Acts, a task force made up of law enforcement and other important aspects of a community, who meet together and analyze data to propose the most effective changes that they recommend the legislature adopt.
This conversation proved that Criminal Justice reform is indeed a conservative issue, and it is one in which conservative policies have the potential to make an astronomical impact.
Fiscal responsibility, family values, and the inherent worth of each human being are only a few of the ideas that will change the lives of low-level offenders if implemented into our reform agendas. Such conversation is important, and this panel was a fantastic start.