At the 2014 RedState Gathering in Fort Worth, Texas, Right on Crime Senior Policy Analyst Vikrant Reddy spoke with Former Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden about his involvement in criminal justice reform in Texas and about his subsequent national work with the Right on Crime campaign.
In a speech at the annual RedState Gathering in Fort Worth, Gov. Rick Perry mentioned the common-sense, conservative criminal justice reforms that have done so much to lower crime in his state. The governor acknowledged the efforts of former Former Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden in promoting the key prison and sentencing reforms that would come to form Right on Crime’s policy agenda.
At the same conference, Madden– now a senior fellow at the Right on Crime campaign– spoke with ROC senior policy analyst Vikrant Reddy about the need for principled, conservative reform in the states.
While Texas still has the nation’s fourth highest adult incarceration rate, an increased emphasis on policies that are both tough and smart has enabled the state to turn the tide and reduce crime while controlling costs to taxpayers. (Find out more about the Texas success story on crime here.)
Right on Crime’s Pat Nolan appears on PBS Newshour to discuss criminal justice reform.
From the website’s description:
The calls to address prison crowding and conditions have intensified as American inmate populations have grown. Jeffrey Brown gets debate on the shifting perceptions of the criminal justice system from Bill McCollum, former attorney general of Florida, Bryan Stevenson of Equal Justice Initiative, and Pat Nolan of the American Conservative Union Foundation.
For Immediate Release: Austin, TX — Right on Crime today announced the addition of former Governor Luis Fortuño, a former Member of Congress, to its growing list of prominent conservatives committed to public safety and cost-effective criminal justice reform as outlined in the Right on Crime Statement of Principles.
Right on Crime is a national campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in partnership with the American Conservative Union Foundation and Justice Fellowship. It supports fighting crime, prioritizing victims, and protecting taxpayers from excessive and often counterproductive spending on prisons.
The movement to reform underperforming and wasteful criminal justice programs had its origins in Texas in 2005; its success has been duplicated and continues to serve as a model for effective policies around the country. In recent years, states like Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota and Georgia have led the way in implementing correctional reforms that save tax dollars and more effectively promote public safety.
“I fully subscribe to Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles,” Gov. Fortuño said. “Ensuring the safety of America’s citizens does not mean government needs to break the bank. I look forward to working with Right on Crime, and their efforts to promote effective, conservative reforms to the criminal justice system.”
Governor Fortuño joins 60 prominent conservative leaders who have endorsed the principles of conservative criminal justice reform, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, former New Mexico Attorney General Hal Stratton and former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, former Florida Attorney General Richard Doran, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, and ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie. The most recent new Right on Crime signatories are former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich and former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley.
“We are pleased to have Gov. Fortuño join our cause. We look forward to his ideas to making criminal justice reforms effective and fiscally responsible,” said Chuck DeVore, Vice President of Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Luis Fortuño represented Puerto Rico in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005-2009, during which he chaired the Congressional Hispanic Conference. He served as the tenth governor of Puerto Rico, from 2009-2013. He is a partner with the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson.
For more information or to schedule an interview with Right on Crime spokespersons, please contact Kevin McVicker at (703) 739-5920 or [email protected].
In an exclusive interview granted to Time Magazine, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed strong concerns about the equity of empirical risk assessments used to determine how a sentence will be carried out. His concern is that “static” risk factors (those that are largely unchangeable through rehabilitation like educational attainment and employment history) unduly influence these assessment will lead to young, black males being unfairly sentenced in comparison to more socially successful white collar criminals.
Mr. Holder’s suspicion that empirical risk assessments may exacerbate (or, to give a charitable reading, perpetuate) racial inequality in the criminal justice system is not entirely without merit. Earlier risk assessment instruments relied heavily on static factors; those which are immutable, unmalleable, and in sum less predictive than those that can be addressed. Items like criminal history have been suggested to be emblematic of distal racial bias, though do not carry enough weight in the calculation of today’s third and fourth generation for this to be so.
What has been shown to predict recidivism are elements that are largely changeable, such as associating with criminal peers or harboring antisocial thoughts. These items are more likely to capture the risk of an individual reoffending. Race, on the other hand, has almost no independent predictive validity.
Perhaps Mr. Holder’s most puzzling comment is of how these risk factors influence sentencing. Perhaps he’s referring to the body of research that suggests that an individual detained before the trial phase are more likely to be found guilty and receive a custodial sanction, though this has been shown to have little correlation with race. The adoption of these instruments allows low risk offenders of ALL races and ethnicities to be monitored in the community sooner.
There is little substance or logic to the concerns about “data-driven sentencing” expressed by the sitting Attorney General. Actuarial risk does not determine guilt. Actuarial risk does not determine the sentence. Actuarial risk is used to determine what the most effective, cost-efficient modality for the offender to complete his or her sentence under at the least cost to public safety.
Risk assessment instruments rout out the specter of latent biases in lieu of actuarial probability. What little interrelation there may be between criminality, risk factors, and race independently is spurious and pales in comparison to the manifold benefit these tools afford those who use them.
We’re glad the Washington Post has recognized the growing conservative support for reforms in our criminal justice system, “Some Republicans push compassionate, anti-poverty agenda ahead of 2016 contest.” Conservatives have been working on criminal justice reform since Chuck Colson founded the Prison Fellowship in 1974. Colson, found guilty of obstruction of justice for his part in the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandals, walked out the prison gates and called on his fellow conservatives to thoroughly revamp the nation’s corrections system. He formed bi-partisan coalitions that pressed for such landmark legislation as the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Second Chance Act.
Over the last decade, conservative leaders in the states balked at funding the skyrocketing costs of their prisons, arguing that correctional costs should be subject to the same scrutiny as every other section of government. Conservatives in states like Texas realized they were spending too much money incarcerating low-risk offenders who could be safely and less expensively helped in their communities; they found that lower incarceration costs can go together with greater public safety. By using data-driven research they were able to be more selective in who they sent to prison.
Thanks to its criminal justice reforms, crime rates in Texas are at their lowest since 1968; the falling inmate population enabled the state to close three prisons; and taxpayers have avoided $3 billion in prison costs. Other states—including South Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—have passed similar reforms with strong support from conservatives.
We are glad to see conservative leaders in Congress sponsoring these common sense and proven policies that keep the public safe and cut the cost of corrections.
Former Texas House of Representatives Corrections Chairman and Senior Fellow, Right On Crime
Former Republican leader of the California State Assembly
Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.
The movement for civil asset forfeiture reform has been gaining momentum as of late. What started as a spotlight on the national practice from a libertarian law firm has recently spawned interest in local to national media.
Now, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has filed a bill seeking to substantially rein in the practice at the federal level.
Entitled the “Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act,” (S. 2644) this item of legislation proposes substantial reforms to the process through which the government can take property absent a criminal conviction.
The bill raises the burden of proof to execute the forfeiture of the property from “preponderance of the evidence” (in layman’s terms: just slightly more likely than not) to “clear and convincing evidence.” In order to take full ownership of the property, federal prosecutors must now demonstrate that the item(s) in question has a “substantial connection” to the criminal offense to a higher standard approaching (though still short of) that for finding criminal guilt.
Perhaps most notably, the bill essentially stops equitable sharing, the common “end-around” used by state and local agencies to circumvent state forfeiture law. As earlier research on civil asset forfeiture has shown, agencies in states with tighter civil forfeiture laws are more likely to engage in equitable sharing.
Further, the FAIR Act breathes new life into the “innocent owner” defense that lay eviscerated following Bennis v. Michigan. Owners of property used by others for criminal purposes now must be shown to know their property was being used in illegal activities.
However, the “willful blindness” caveat contained in the bill could serve to hamper the effectiveness of this defense. After all, how does one demonstrate due diligence in hedging against a future crime?
It also fails to extend already-existing procedural protections (namely, right to counsel) that those accused of criminal activity are due. The cost of one’s own legal defense (oftentimes tens of thousands of dollars) is not transferable, and forces the own to determine if the legal victory is worth the cost to earn it irrespective of innocence.
While the fate of the current bill in still undetermined, it is heartening to see Congress proposing serious measures to preserve the sanctity of property rights and uphold the rule of law.
A November ballot initiative in California is directed at reforming the state’s troubled criminal justice system. The California Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, would require that certain non-violent offenders—petty thieves, recipients of stolen property, those who write “hot” checks of less than $950, and low-level drug possession offenders—receive misdemeanor, rather than felony, sentences. The initiative would be made retroactive so that offenders in these categories who are currently serving felony sentences could be re-sentenced at the discretion of the court. Offenders with certain previous violent or sex offenses would be excluded and remain subject to felony sentencing.
State analysts project that the initiative could result in savings in the low hundreds of millions annually. These savings, in turn, would be redirected towards improved drug treatment, mental health services, and victims’ services. The Heritage Foundation discussed the ballot initiative here. Right On Crime signatory, B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., is a prominent advocate for the initiative, and he makes his case for the Act here.
Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime asking the right questions:
Which criminal laws are overlapping, obsolete, overbroad or vague, or lacking a mens rea provision?
What percent of offenders in community corrections and prison are paying the restitution they owe?
Which treatment, education, and work programs most reduce re-offending for each type of offender?
How many low-risk offenders are going to prison?
How many probationers and parolees are revoked for rule violations who could be safely supervised and treated given sufficient resources?
ROC signatories Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan co-authored an article for The Wall Street Journal in which they call on Congress to reform the federal prison system. The op-ed, titled “An Opening for Bipartisanship on Prison Reform,” states that “half of all federal inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses, not violent crimes,” and recommends that the government look to ‘right on crime’ states for sensible and proven reforms.