Right on Crime Policy Director, Marc Levin, and signatory Jerry Madden visit with Derek Monson of the Sutherland Institute for a discussion about criminal justice reform efforts in Utah.
Utah, a state generally capable in the criminal justice world, is now on the precipice of costing taxpayers 500-525 million dollars by building a new prison to ease the overcrowding, and in anticipation of rising incarceration rates.
Former Texas State Representative Jerry Madden, a signatory of Right on Crime, and Marc Levin, the Director, both joined a Hinckley Institute panel last week to advocate for cost-efficient measures that focused the limited resources of the state on high-risk and violent offenders. These measures would include strengthening the parole and probation programs in order to allow low-risk and nonviolent offenders to be diverted to these inexpensive alternatives.
“In Texas, there were only two choices you could [make] if you’re not going to build new prisons. One, you open the door and let people leave early,” Madden said. “Or two, you have to figure out a way to slow down people coming in.”
“Ultimately, I think the vast majority of folks would say let’s reserve prisons for those people we’re afraid of, not those we’re mad at, and recognize the fact that people can actually get worse in prison,” Levin said.
“Really, the results speak for themselves,” Levin added.
“Texas Experts Say Prison Reform Best Way to Control Costs” – Deseret News
“Experts Say Prison Reform Best Way for Utah to Control Costs” – KSL.com
“What Leaders are Saying About Prison Reform in Utah” – Daily Herald
“Experts Suggest Prison Reform Instead of New Utah Facility” – Corrections One
On January 22 on Capitol Hill, Right on Crime Senior Policy Analyst Vikrant P. Reddy addressed #Cut50, a new prison reform group, on the subject of conservative criminal justice reform. The other panelists at the event were former House Speaker and Right on Crime signatory Newt Gingrich, Senator Cory Booker, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Cut 50 founder Van Jones. The event was held in a room in the Senate Russell Building and drew a standing-room-only crowd of Hill staffers and other advocates.
Vikrant discussed several ideas at the panel, including performance-incentive funding for corrections facilities and programs, drug and mental health diversion courts, increased use of risk assessments, and reversing the tide of overcriminalization. He provided specific examples of how legislation to further these goals had passed in conservative states throughout the country such as Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas. He also explained why the ideas appeal to various wings of the conservative movement, from social conservatives to fiscal conservatives to libertarians.
Vikrant emphasized that prison reform efforts would likely be fruitless unless led by conservatives because conservatives were the ones who demonstrated a seriousness about public safety concerns in the 1960s and 70s when many liberals seemed preoccupied with rehabilitative fads that were not based in data and evidence. He specifically encouraged the enthusiastic attendees not to lose sight of the importance of public safety outcomes when advocating for prison reform. He even noted that while the work of #Cut50—the host organization—was laudable, its name was slightly problematic because it refers the goal of cutting the U.S. prison population by 50%, but improving crime rates in troubled neighborhoods are a far better measurement of success than simply the number of people released from prison.
The other members of the briefing panel were deeply engaged in the issue, but none so much as former Speaker Newt Gingrich who took several pages of notes throughout the entire event and delivered remarks heaping praise upon Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship for bringing the issue to the forefront of conservative politics.
#Cut50 and Speaker Gingrich will hold a follow up briefing on March 26th of this year.
At the start of Texas’ legislative season, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and Derek Cohen took to the pages of the Texas Tribune to outline a conservative approach to criminal justice.
It may come as a surprise to some, but Texas is widely viewed as one of the nation’s leaders in criminal justice reform. The reinvestment strategies pioneered in the Lone Star State have been held up by national organizations as model reforms, so it’s no surprise that Texans are enjoying the lowest statewide crime rates since 1968.
Never content to rest on its laurels, the Texas Legislature has already shown great interest in furthering these successes in the current session.
After several high-profile abuses both nationally and within the state in recent years, the Legislature has signaled interest is protecting citizens from rampant excesses related to civil asset forfeiture. Six bills have been pre-filed concerning the burden of proof the state must meet to keep property absent a criminal conviction, reporting standards and how forfeiture money may be spent. While this debate has proved quarrelsome, an overwhelming majority of legislators appear committed to preserving the property rights of innocent Texans while ensuring the fruits of criminal activity are still confiscated from those actually convicted.
With the issue having received a good deal of attention during the interim, it’s no surprise that no fewer than seven bills have been filed on the decriminalization of truancy, a Class C misdemeanor in the state. Texas is one of two states (the other is Wyoming) that directly employs the criminal justice system to deal with students skipping school, putting a great burden on local courts — there were 76,000 such filings in fiscal year 2012 alone — to say nothing of the cost to the students’ education.
The prospective legislation ranges from implementing graduated sanctions for truants to full repeal of the Class C misdemeanor. It’s important to note that even if truancy is fully decriminalized, sanctions can still be imposed by juvenile courts. The Legislature has shown it understands that the criminal justice system is no venue for meting out discipline for minor misbehavior (i.e., Senate Bills 393 and 1114 from the 2013 legislative session), and we’re optimistic that lawmakers will apply the same understanding to truancy.
Perhaps the most contentious item of criminal justice policy will be the debate over raising the age of the criminal court jurisdiction. Put more simply, the Legislature will decide if 17-year-olds belong in juvenile courts or should remain in the adult system. The body of scholarship shows that 17-year-olds in the juvenile system generally have better outcomes, though the scale of the effect is under debate by some researchers. Further complicating matters is the unavoidable (and perhaps sizable) fiscal note likely to attend such legislation. While juvenile probation costs more per day than adult probation, the Legislature must balance that with the fact that juvenile probation produces better results, including fewer revocations to incarceration that impose significant long-term costs.
Finally, the Legislature has shown interest in removing barriers that face those seeking to earn an honest day’s pay. Lawmakers have filed several bills (and one successful amendment to House rules that requires bills licensing a new occupation to indicate such in the caption) that would strengthen the ability of entrepreneurial Texans to enter the free market and earn a living with minimal government intrusion. Given current trends, we believe that the Legislature is interested in both reducing the barriers to competition and removing onerous criminal penalties associated with occupational licensing, and will pass legislation to this end.
Texas is well-regarded nationally for the criminal justice reforms it has enacted over the last decade, and the state has the potential to capitalize on that success. The Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition, made up of groups from across the ideological spectrum, has come to a consensus on policies that are sure to give Texans the best outcomes for their tax dollars in terms of public safety and cost control. The legislative agenda adopted by this group contains recommendations that all interested Texans, whether conservative or liberal, can support.
Winds of change in criminal justice aren’t completely leaving liberal states behind. Washington is also showing interest in Justice Reinvestment. This movement was begun by the Council of State Governments and was predominately adopted by conservative states.
This strategy will help overcrowding – currently a problem for Washington – by using inexpensive evidence-based programs that divert low-risk offenders from burdensome and damaging prisons. It will also address the increase that Washington has seen in offenses, particularly worrisome as most other states are experiencing lower crime rates.
Read more here.