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Michael Haugen | July 15, 2015
Earlier today, Marc Levin, director for the Center of Effective Justice and Right on Crime, was invited by Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to provide testimony on a panel discussing criminal justice reform initiatives, both at the federal and state levels.
Levin began his remarks to the committee by highlighting successes that states across the country have had over the last decade in reforming their burgeoning justice systems. For instance, since Texas began its first major overhaul in 2005, it has managed to reduce its incarceration rate by 12%, while lowering its overall crime rate by more than 24%–its lowest such rate since 1968.
As a result, Texas has not only lowered its prison population (and closed three prisons), but has realized significant taxpayer savings to the tune of billions of dollars, while most importantly, preserving public safety.
In light of Texas’ successes, many other states have followed suit with their own initiatives, including Utah, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, among others. This groundswell of state-led reforms, Levin stated, provides “a lot of momentum for federal action as well.”
However, one of the most notable initiatives raised by Levin—one that could serve as a model for further reforms among state and federal justice systems—came from Texas’ most recent legislative session that ended in late May: orders of nondisclosure, or ONDs.
ONDs represent a “back-end” reform—changes that affect an individual post-detention—that allow certain first-time, low-risk, non-violent offenders to have their records sealed from much of the public (excepting law enforcement, and other employers involved in sensitive industries). Many ex-offenders, upon release, find that getting on their feet is hampered by difficulties obtaining housing or gainful employment due to their records. ONDs help ameliorate these barriers to reentry, allowing them to legally and honestly state, when asked about prior criminal activity, that they have never been convicted of a crime.
For more information about non-disclosures in Texas, click here.
Levin touched on another area of reform that has been gaining significant attention in recent months at the state level, but as of yet, hasn’t made much leeway federally—civil asset forfeiture. In light of this, Levin urged that greater efforts are necessary:
“This has resulted in confiscation of money and property from many innocent Americans, and the FAIR Act is a great way to start, that’s takes a number of reforms, including making sure there’s clear and convincing evidence (not just preponderance of evidence), getting rid of equitable sharing…and also making sure that property is automatically returned to people if they’re not convicted.”
Levin’s comments on civil asset forfeiture come on the heels of a recent primer on the practice, co-hosted by Right on Crime and Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, DC. This policy primer—featuring two different panels of experts—discussed much of the historical background surrounding asset forfeiture and some of its more onerous implications, and later featured a victim of civil forfeiture, and provided possible future reforms. Full video of the entire event can be found here.
Watch the entire testimony of Levin—whose remarks begin at 46:30—below: