Gingrich: Remaking South Dakota’s Juvenile Justice System

Right on Crime signatory Newt Gingrich takes to the South Dakota press to promote reform for that state’s juvenile corrections system. His piece appeared in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, and comes on the heels of Senate Bill 73, bipartisan state legislation that would, in the words of Governor Dennis Daugaard, lead to “fewer youth incarcerated, with a greater emphasis on community support and accountability for the offender.”

Speaker Gingrich writes:

Think of a teenager that you love very much. It could be your child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Basically a good kid, but like most teenagers, having a tough time adjusting to the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. He or she makes a bad decision — skips school, runs away from home, violates curfew or sneaks some alcohol.

How should the government handle these violations? Certainly there should be consequences. Young people have to learn that they need to follow the rules. But how should we teach them to follow the rules? Should we ship them away from their families to teach them a lesson, or should we try to treat them in their homes, in their communities, and teach them to become better citizens where they live?

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Restorative Justice for Veterans in Lubbock County, Texas

While they have earned Americans’ respect and honor, veterans are often victim to devastating problems after their service. Tragically, chronic homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health disorders disproportionally affect those who served in the Armed Forces. In Texas, Lubbock County has determined to fight these problems where they most frequently manifest: the criminal justice system.

Instead of continuing to funnel minor veteran offenses through the court system that both leaves them with a criminal record and frequently devolves into a costly and tragic cycle, Lubbock will now be offering a restorative justice option.

Lubbock already has a greater experience and understanding in alternative justice forms, with a robust restorative justice program. Restorative justice is an alternative to formal court intervention, instead involving mediation between the victim and the offender. These discussions have several other advantages– like fewer fees and fines, which result in greater victim reimbursement. In addition, victims express greater satisfaction with the results of these restorative justice programs. Best of all, they lower the number of repeat offenses.

To learn more about restorative justice, Right on Crime policy analyst Derek Cohen has further information provided here.

The program in Lubbock is offered to veterans who have been involved in misdemeanors or occasionally felonies if the District Attorney consents. If substance abuse or mental health counseling is needed, it will be provided as well. To add to the focus on veterans and provide greater understanding and support all mediators and counselors are veterans as well.

Read more here.


ROC’s Vikrant Reddy Joins Gingrich for #Cut50 Briefing on Capitol Hill


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.


ROC Presents an Agenda for Criminal Justice in Texas

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.


Washington Looks Into Conservative Criminal Justice Reforms

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. 

Washington-based newspaper The Colombian ran the editorial, “Get Smart on Crime,” in its January 23, 2015 edition.

Despite a prison population in Washington that is overcapacity, statistics from the FBI indicate that the state has the nation’s highest rate of property crimes such as burglary and auto theft. This incongruity points out the need to rethink the state’s strategy for preventing and dealing with crime and with criminals. In other words, after several decades of a tough-on-crime mantra, the time has come for the state to explore how it can be smart on crime.

“This tells us our incarceration-only strategy is not working and needs to change,” Gov. Jay Inslee said recently, upon the release of a report on the state’s justice and corrections system. A Justice Reinvestment Task Force, with assistance from the nonprofit Council of State Governments, examined what Washington can do to better protect and serve its citizens. The study unveiled a system that will be difficult to sustain if the solution is simply to lock up all the bad guys and to keep building prisons to hold them.

Under the current system, the state’s prison population is projected to grow 6 percent over the next decade, and expanding prison space to meet that demand would cost $291 million for construction and operations between now and 2021. As state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, a member of the task force, told the Associated Press, “Prison is an effective program to prevent crime. It’s just a very expensive effective way to prevent crime.”

And the expenses are not found only in the bill that is handed to taxpayers. Prison time is costly to the families of those incarcerated and can prove to be a lifelong sentence that impacts the criminals’ ability to reintegrate into society. While we can understand that a civilized society calls for people to be held accountable for their crimes, and while we would not diminish the role the criminal played in their incarceration, part of any corrections reform must include an examination of the state’s sentencing guidelines.

Washington is the only state with guidelines that do not provide for supervision instead of incarceration for property crime offenders, and logic dictates that the state can find a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars. The task force report suggests that spending more money for policing, for assisting crime victims, and for increasing probation supervision will reduce prison expenses and, in the long run, save money.

From 2009-13, while the nation as a whole saw an 11 percent drop in property crimes, Washington saw a 1 percent increase. Clearly, something is amiss in how the state approaches crime prevention, and much of that can be traced to a lack of supervision for offenders. In 2003, Washington had 65,549 offenders under supervision; following a wave of budget cuts, that number was reduced 77 percent by 2013. Instead, Washington typically opts for short prison terms that accomplish little other than teaching the offender how to be a better criminal. Shortening incarceration time for minor property offenses but enhancing the accountability of those criminals upon their release — and remaining tough on repeat offenders — is an equation that seems to pencil out.

Obviously, the goal is to reduce crime and to reduce the number of crime victims. The question of how best to do that is a conundrum that presents a challenge for the Legislature. Lawmakers are, understandably, loath to appear soft on crime and risk incurring the wrath of voters. But the time has come for Washington to start acting smart on crime.