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Texas Conservative Leaders Urge Cruz and Cornyn to Support Prison Reform

Austin, TX — Today, thirty prominent Texas conservative leaders sent a letter to Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn urging them to support the FIRST STEP Act, which would provide reentry programming to help reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and give those incarcerated a second chance once they have paid their debt to society. The legislation passed the House of Representatives on May 22nd and is awaiting consideration in the Senate.

The letter, organized by Right on Crime and signed by conservative leaders and state legislators engaged in criminal justice reform, states:

“Now, Washington, D.C. has another opportunity to learn from the Texas experience by passing the FIRST STEP Act, which would bring some of the reforms that have cut crime and costs in Texas to the federal prison system. We hope you will join us in supporting this important legislation that reveived 360 votes in the House, including the entire Texas GOP delegation and all but two of the entire Republican Caucus.”

It goes on to highlight the results of criminal justice reforms implemented in Texas:

“Texas has closed 8 prisons and achieved a reduction of more than 20% in its incarceration rate. Most importantly, over the last decade, Texas has seen its crime rate fall by more than 30%, reaching its lowest level since 1967.

It closes by saying:

“We know that some 40,000 people will be released this year from federal prison to live near our families. Many of them will not have completed programs that could have reduced the reisk they post to society and improved their chances of holding jobs. We encourage you to support the FIRST STEP Act so that the federal prison system can follow Texas in recognizing that public safety demands that we not simply warehouse, but actually rehabilitate the thousands of prisoners that will be reentering our society.”

The full text of the letter is available here.

Right on Crime is a national campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in partnership  with the American Conservative Union Foundation and Prison Fellowship, that supports conservative solutions for reducing crime, restoring victims, reforming offenders, and lowering taxpayer costs. The movement was born in Texas in 2005, and in recent years, dozens of states such as Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, have led the way in implementing conservative criminal justice reforms.

Right on Crime has the support and works to mobilize the voices of more than ninety prominent conservative leaders who have endorsed the principles of conservative criminal justice reform, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

For more information about Right on Crime, please visit www.facebook.com/rightoncrime, @RightonCrime, www.youtube.com/rightoncrime

For more information or to schedule an interview with Right on Crime spokespersons, please contact Caroline Espinosa at (703) 589-4597 or cespinosa@texaspolicy.com

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Texans Support the FIRST STEP Act

June 7, 2018

Dear Senators Cornyn and Cruz:

As Texans, we are getting pretty accustomed to our state leading the nation, whether it is in creating jobs, achieving energy independence, or in improving our criminal justice system to deliver more public safety at a lower cost to taxpayers. Now, Washington D.C. has another opportunity to learn from the Texas experience by passing the FIRST STEP Act, which would bring some of the reforms that have cut crime and costs in Texas to the federal prison system. We hope you will join us in supporting this important legislation that received 360 votes in the House, including the entire Texas GOP delegation and all but two of the entire Republican Caucus.

The FIRST STEP Act is supported by numerous stakeholders in business, the faith-based communities, and the conservative movement. And in his State of the Union Speech, and again at a White House Summit on May 18th, President Trump called for federal prison reform, and it is now within our grasp. Our friend, former Governor and now Energy Secretary Rick Perry explained it best in 2015:

“During my leadership as governor, Texas shut down three prisons, and we saved taxpayers $2 billion. When I left office, Texas had the lowest crime rate in our state since 1968. My administration started treatment programs and drug courts for people who wouldn’t be served well by sitting behind bars. We made sure our parole and probation programs were strong. Most of all, we evaluated prisons based on whether they got results. Did an ex-offender get locked up again? Did he get a job? Is he paying restitution to his victims? In Texas, we believe in results.”

We have seen the benefits of this approach in the Lone Star State, which continued to accrue since Governor Perry left office. In 2007, Texas was at a crossroads as it faced building more than 17,000 new prison beds that were projected to be needed. Instead, policymakers adopted reforms that expanded drug courts and mental health treatment. It cleared backlogs for treatment programs behind bars that had waiting lists of many months. Such programs are often a condition of release even after approval by the Parole Board. This enabled more people in prison to be good candidates for parole, leading to higher parole rates and thousands fewer new crimes by parolees. Meanwhile, the parole system implemented graduated sanctions and incentives, and restored the chaplain program so parolees could connect with churches and other religious congregations, rather than gangs.

In 2011 Texas doubled down on reforms by enacting a policy allowing those in state jails to earn time by completing programs, such as educational, vocational and treatment interventions, that are correlated with reduced recidivism. Since then, thousands of individuals confined in state jails have earned up to 20 percent off their sentences as a result of being incentivized in this way.

The results speak for themselves. Texas has closed 8 prisons and achieved a reduction of more than 20% in its incarceration rate. Most importantly, over the last decade, Texas has seen its crime rate fall by more than 30%, reaching its lowest level since 1967.

Turning to the federal prison system, the FIRST STEP Act would help ensure those leaving federal prison are less of a danger than when they arrived. While there is an element of luck in our daily lives, those of us who do not live in prison generally experience a connection between the efforts we expend and the results we experience. By allowing many of those in prison to earn time by completing programs proven to reduce recidivism, and expanding the availability of such programs, the FIRST STEP Act would enable the federal prison system to gain from what Texas has learned.

Of course, the FIRST STEP Act recognizes that not everyone behind bars should be eligible for a reduction. Had Osama bin Laden not met justice courtesy of America’s finest and ultimately been placed in federal prison, he certainly should not have received any such opportunity. So the FIRST STEP Act appropriately excludes the most serious offenses such as terrorism from earning credits through
completing programming. Here in Texas, since we began our reforms in 2007, we have seen the prison population go from 60% nonviolent offenders to 60% violent offenders, so we know a thing or two about making sure we lock up those we are afraid of.

The FIRST STEP Act includes many other important reforms, such as ensuring pregnant women in federal prisons are not shackled during childbirth, and that prisoners are – whenever practical and safe – kept within 500 miles of their families, thereby promoting visitation and successful reentry. The FIRST STEP Act does not solve every problem in the federal prison system, but it is a worthy start.
We all recognize some offenders commit such evil acts and are so dangerous that they must never be free to live among us, but many more offenders can find redemption and become productive, law-abiding citizens with the right intervention. We know that some 40,000 people will be released this year from federal prison to live near our families. Many of them will not have completed programs that could
have reduced the risk they pose to society and improved their chances of holding jobs.

We encourage you to support the FIRST STEP Act so that the federal prison system can follow Texas in recognizing that public safety demands that we not simply warehouse, but actually rehabilitate the thousands of prisoners that will be reentering our society.
Thank you for your consideration. Should you have any questions, please contact Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation at dcohen@texaspolicy.com.

Sincerely,

Kevin Roberts
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Doug Deason
The Deason Foundation

Jerome Greener
Americans for Prosperity-Texas

Jason Isaac
Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute

Oliver Bell
Former Chairman, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Caroline Chadwick
Young Conservatives of Texas

Senator Donna Campbell
Texas State Senate

Craig DeRoche
Prison Fellowship

Representative James Frank
Texas House of Representatives

Senator Bob Hall
Texas State Senate

Stacy Hock
Joel and Stacy Hock Foundation

Terry Holcomb
State Republican Executive Committee

Senator Don Huffines
Texas State Senate

Senator Bryan Hughes
Member, Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee

Justin Keener
Texans for Free Enterprise

Representative Matt Krause
Texas House of Representatives
Former Member, Texas House Corrections Committee

Representative Jeff Leach
Texas House of Representatives
Former Member, Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

Robin & Jim Lennon
Kingwood TEA Party

Former Representative Jerry Madden
Former Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee
Member, 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform Committee

Jeff Moseley
Texas Association of Business

Representative Jim Murphy
Texas House of Representatives
Former Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee

Karen Newton
Texas Federation of Republican Women

Naomi Narvaiz
State Republican Executive Committee

Josiah Neeley
R Street Institute

Tanya Robertson
State Republican Executive Committee

Tom Roller
State Republican Executive Committee

Senator Van Taylor
Texas State Senate, and Republican nominee for CD3

Kari Volgtsberger
State Republican Executive Committee

Representative James White
Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee

Representative Paul Workman
Texas House of Representatives

Representative John Wray
Texas House of Representatives
Member, Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee

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America’s sheriffs should support the FIRST STEP Act

This article by retired sheriff Currie Myers originally appeared in Real Clear Policy June 7th, 2018.

The FIRST STEP Act (H.R. 5682) was passed by the House of Representatives on May 22, and the Senate is expected to consider the bill in the coming weeks. The bill incentivizes participation in rehabilitation programs with the opportunity to gain “earned time” credits. These credits allow reformed offenders to spend pre-release custody time in halfway houses or home confinement. This bill would not only have a major positive impact on the lives of offenders, but perhaps even reduce drug addiction in the United States.

Unfortunately, leaders representing a major law enforcement organization, the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), have taken a stance against this bill. As a former sheriff, I can testify that their concerns are misinformed.

The NSA makes an assumption that there will be a causal link to release of inmates due to the FIRST STEP Act and an increase in armed violent crime. The programs proposed by FIRST STEP, however, are not early release programs. The bill does not change when or if an offender is released. It changes how they are prepared to reenter society.

The cornerstone of the bill is proper treatment for addictions and treatment aligned with specific drug abuses such as opioid addictions. Studies show opioid addiction treatment works best with contingency management treatment, as in the case of the  in the 1990s. Such treatment is offered in a prison model where the appropriate structure and behaviors can be monitored. Inmates being treated in a contingency management model can have greater success if they are rewarded for good behavior. These rewards can include family visits and interactions, something more likely to occur when inmates are housed closer to their homes.

The issue of recidivism is well known. The assumption might be made that previous offenders are more inclined to offend again. We tend to hold that assumption based on the historical perspective of the more recent prison model as opposed to a treatment model. FIRST STEP is focused on treatment and reintegration of inmates back into society. As the economy continues to expand, job opportunities continue to grow, and reintegration becomes even more important. Offering a former inmate that has successfully completed addiction therapy or has gained job skills every opportunity to become a tax-paying citizen is ultimately the best way to reduce recidivism.

It’s important to note that a preliminary analysis of America’s 30 largest cities shows that violent crime is on track to decrease 1 percent for the 2017 counting period with overall crime down 1.4 percent. That amounts to the second-lowest overall crime levels since 1990. And in states like Texas and Georgia, conservative criminal justice reform focusing on lower-risk offenders, such as those who would be affected the FIRST STEP Act, has led to the lowest property crime rates since 1965.

The FIRST STEP Act will be an important public safety tool and an important “first step” in reducing recidivism, reducing violent crime, and having an impact on the opioid crises in the United States. I urge my law enforcement colleagues, especially important community leaders like the National Sheriff’s Association, to get behind this legislation and its successful implementation.

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Don’t kick the can down the road on prison reform — now is the time for change

This article by Former New York City Police Commissioner and Right on Crime Signatory Bernard Kerik originally appeared in The Hill June 1st, 2018.

Last week, as Washington focused on a controversial House prison reform bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) titled The First Step Act, a few things relating to criminal justice and prison reform — both good and bad — got less attention.

First, Senate Democrats and criminal justice advocates immediately downplayed and criticized the bill, calling for more comprehensive legislation that would focus on sentencing reforms and mandatory minimums. The problem is, bolder legislation is likely not to pass this year.

Second, the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark Inch, quietly resigned after just nine months in the position. Word on the street was that his departure stemmed from frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions excluding him from major staffing, policy and budget decisions in his own agency.

Having run two of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States — the NYPD and the New York City jail system, including Rikers Island — and, unfortunately, having served time in the federal prison system for three years and 11 days, my perspective is unique. No one with my background, experience and success in jail or prison management has ever lived inside the federal prison system as an inmate. No one.

I consider it a mistake to oppose The First Step Act, which would contradict the very mission statement and the goals and objectives of the BOP.

Think about it: The bill would end the barbaric practice of shackling pregnant women in prison; it would enable everyone in federal prison (except those serving life sentences) to earn more time off for good behavior, thereby enabling them to return to their families sooner.

For hard-nosed law-and-order types, keep in mind that we love to look tough and over-punish and, yet, offer little or no incentives for good behavior. Rewarding good behavior in a jail or prison system reduces inmate-on-inmate violence as well as inmate-officer confrontations, and increases programming attendance and cleaner, more manageable facilities.

This bill would keep families closer together by requiring the Bureau of Prisons to place incarcerated people within 500 driving miles of their home. The BOP urges inmates to maintain family ties, especially with their children, but then often prevents them from doing so due to long distances and exorbitant rates to make phone calls.

The bill would reform the federal compassionate-release program, so that taxpayers are not spending millions to keep locked up the most expensive, lowest risk offenders — and so that families can spend a loved one’s final days together.

Lastly, it would invest tens of millions of dollars in recidivism-reducing programming, which would improve public safety and give prisoners a better possibility of a second chance in life.

These are common-sense reforms. The bill could be more comprehensive, but a bolder bill might never make it to the president’s desk.

There is some good news. The BOP director’s departure could be the best thing that’s happened in prison reform in decades, especially given President Trump’s support and White House adviser Jared Kushner’s dogged determination to change an archaic, draconian system.

Historically, jail and prison systems are treated like the black sheep of the criminal justice system; without a president, governor or mayor who understands the need to fund correctional systems appropriately and to institute management-accountability programs that address fraud, waste, abuse and corruption, the system will remain in constant crisis.

We have a president who wants change; unfortunately, Director Inch was not seen as a reformer and succumbed to the status quo of the BOP, surrounding himself with career BOP executives who had no problem with the culture, outdated policies and lack of accountability within the bureau.

The next director must be willing to bring the bureau into the 21st century, and that’s never going to happen without the support of the attorney general and an overhaul of the bureau’s executive staff in headquarters and at the regional level. You cannot use the old guard and the same policies and expect change for the better.

A new director must understand the collateral consequences that come with a felony conviction in order to implement the appropriate vocational and life-skill programs to assist offenders attempting to re-enter society.

Unfortunately, although the Justice Department has promoted smarter offender evaluations upon conviction to ensure that it’s putting the worst of the worst offenders in prison, U.S. Attorneys across the country still take ethical, civil, administrative and regulatory violations and turn them into criminal conduct. Prison sentences for first-time, low-level nonviolent drug offenses and nonviolent white-collar offenses is a mistake.

As a result, it creates a permanent underclass of American citizen removed from the workforce for long periods — most for eternity — and costs the economy billions more than the reported costs of incarceration.

The fact that a felony conviction remains on your record until the day you die, and prevents you from becoming a whole citizen again, is exactly why the Justice Department should be doing everything feasible to ensure that only the worst of the worst are prosecuted and sent to prison. Sadly, that is not happening.

The new BOP director must realize that prison is nothing but a training ground for thuggery and criminality; there is no benefit to society when we suck all the societal values out of someone and institutionalize them, turning them into thugs. We cannot treat inmates like children and expect them to act like adults. We cannot demoralize and demean a prisoner and expect them to return to their communities a better person.

The next BOP director must be an agent for change. The president wants it, Mr. Kushner is moving the ball and, for the first time in decades, the administration has an opportunity to change the BOP for the better with the right person in charge. However, the attorney general and Justice Department must be on the same page as the president.

Bernard B. Kerik was the first deputy and commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, from 1995 through 2000. As commissioner of the NYPD from 2000 through 2001, he oversaw its response to the 9/11 attack. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to ethics violations and was fined, then pleaded guilty in 2009 to eight federal charges, including tax fraud and false statements, which led to his 48-month sentence in a federal prison. He is the founder of the Kerik Group, which provides clients with homeland security, police and correctional training, criminal justice and prison-reform strategies.

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Prison reform is worth fighting for in the Senate

This article by Derek Cohen originally appeared in The Hill May 27th, 2018.

On Tuesday, the vast majority of U.S. House members put families and communities ahead of political gain and passed the FIRST STEP Act. This criminal justice reform bill, if passed by the Senate, will change lives by offering inmates a second chance, and provide the kind of transformative programs that will help keep them out of prison once they’re released.

In the Senate, Texas’ own Republican Sen. John Cornyn is leading the efforts to pass the bill. That’s appropriate, because Cornyn has seen first-hand the success Texas has had with criminal justice reform — including a more than 20-percent reduction in its incarceration rate since 2005, at the same time we achieved an overall drop in crime of more than 30 percent.

In 2007, Texas was at a crossroads. We faced the need to build more than 17,000 new prison beds. Instead, the Texas legislature adopted a justice reinvestment package that expanded alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts and mental health treatment.

The Texas package also helped reduce backlogs for treatment programs behind bars that had waiting lists of many months. Such programs are often a condition of release even after approval by the Parole Board. This enabled more people in prison to be good candidates for parole, leading to higher parole rates and thousands fewer new crimes by parolees.

Subsequent legislation restored a chaplaincy program so that inmates could connect with churches and other congregations. We found that many chose church over gangs.

A system of graduated sanctions for parolees ensured that public safety was protected without creating a need for more prison beds.

And then in 2011, Texas doubled down on our reforms by enacting a policy allowing those in state jails to earn time by completing programs, such as educational, vocational and treatment interventions, that are correlated with reduced recidivism.

The results have been amazing. Thousands of Texas inmates have earned up to 20 percent off their sentences through these programs — while learning the skills that will help prevent them from returning to prison in the future.

The FIRST STEP Act, which passed by a vote of 360 to 59, would bring these conservative principles — and these considered successes — to the federal prison system.

Of course, the FIRST STEP Act recognizes that not everyone should be eligible for earned-time credits to allow for supervised release. Violent criminals who have preyed on our communities must be kept behind bars. The FIRST STEP Act appropriately excludes the most serious offenses from earning credits through completing programs.

Opposition to the FIRST STEP Act comes from many in Washington who have supported criminal justice reform in the past. Indeed, on the House floor on Tuesday, a vocal few urged their colleagues to vote against the bill — not because it’s a bad bill, but because in their opinions it didn’t go far enough.

This bill is called the FIRST STEP Act for one simple reason. It does not purport to fix every problem in the federal system. Other necessary changes, such as fixing how charges can be “stacked” to produce absurdly long sentences, can and should be addressed in future legislation.

But we do know this: over 42,000 people will be released this year from federal prison to live near you and me. Many of them will be unprepared. They will not have completed programs that could have reduced the risk they pose to society. They will not have learned the skills that would improve their chances of finding and holding jobs. These barriers make it more likely for them to re-offend and end up back behind bars.

This prison reform legislation would help tear down the barriers to leading a law-abiding, productive life for those who are willing to work for it.

A decade ago, Texas lawmakers of both parties came together to deliver successful prison reform. The result has been thousands of examples of real redemption, along with healthier communities and stronger families.

Aren’t these goals worth fighting for?

 

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A First Step for Prison Reform

This article by Center for Urban Renewal and Education President and Right on Crime signatory Star Parker originally appeared in Town Hall May 23rd, 2018.

Recently, I attended the White House Prison Reform Summit.

The fact that both the president and the vice president were at the event indicates the importance that the Trump administration ascribes to this issue.

And statistics quoted by Vice President Pence explain why our existing prison system should trouble us all.

According to the vice president, “Every year, while 650,000 people leave America’s prisons, within three years two-thirds of them are arrested again. More than half will be convicted; 40 percent will find themselves back where they started, behind bars. It’s a cycle of criminality. It’s a cycle of failure.”

The encouraging news is that we’re seeing a level of bipartisan cooperation on this issue that is rare in Washington these days.

The House Judiciary Committee has just passed a prison reform bill called the First Step Act that is co-sponsored by Republican Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Congressional Black Caucus Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

The bill was voted out of committee by a vote of 25-5, with 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting for it.

Moderating one of the panels at the White House summit was a former Obama White House advisor, Van Jones, who has come out in support of the First Step Act.

On his Facebook page, Jones called the legislation, “A big win for men and women in federal prison.”

The point person in the White House on this issue is presidential advisor Jared Kushner, who deserves much of the credit for raising the profile of the importance prison reform and for recruiting the broad base of support.

The First Step Act establishes new tools for prison management to conduct ongoing risk assessments of each prisoner, evaluating the likelihood of the prisoner recommitting a crime. The profiling also establishes a basis for programs and job training to assist in rehabilitation of these individuals.

Prisoners productively participating in these programs, and showing progress in behavior and attitudes, are rewarded with increased phone time, visits and transfers to facilities closer to their homes and families.

Those achieving a low-risk profile of recidivism may be eligible for at-home confinement or for being transferred to halfway houses for the final period of their sentences.

A group of 121 former federal law enforcement officials have signed a letter urging the passage of the First Step Act.

The list of signatories includes one former U.S. attorney general and five former U.S. deputy attorney generals. And, in the aforementioned spirit of bipartisanship, the list includes Bush Administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Mary Jo White, appointed by Barack Obama as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the first and only woman to be U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Despite the impressive core support for this bill, there is opposition on the left and the right.

Several high-profile Black Caucus Democrats, including Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and Representatives John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee, signed a letter in opposition. Also the NAACP opposes the bill.

Complaints include that the risk assessment system is “untested” and that the bill only focuses on prison reform and not sentencing reform.

But the assessment system is not “untested.” A good number of states have enacted similar measures with great success. Texas passed similar reforms in 2007, resulting in $3 billion in savings and producing the lowest crime rate in the state in almost 50 years.

There is broad consensus that sentencing reform is also needed. But reform dealing with recidivism is not dependent on this. So why make the politics much more complicated and the probability of passage much lower?

Thoughtful reform to deal with recidivism is both humane and economically sensible. President Trump said he’ll sign it if Congress passes it. They should.

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Right on Crime Applauds House Passage of FIRST STEP Act

Austin, TX — The U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (H.R. 5682) by a vote of 360-59.  Sponsored by Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the FIRST STEP Act improves the federal prison system by providing reentry programming to help reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and give those incarcerated a second chance once they have paid their debt to society. Right on Crime signatories former Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, and Rebecca Hagelin with the Executive Committee of the Council for National Policy issued the following statements on House passage:

“As a former state Attorney General, I applaud the House of Representatives for approving the FIRST STEP Act.  In states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, prison reform has proven successful in improving public safety, reducing recidivism, and saving taxpayer dollars,” said former Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli. “The House of Representatives has truly taken the first step toward implementing similar reforms at the federal level and we hope the U.S. Senate will move quickly to also pass it and give incarcerated people the tools they need to become productive members of society.”

“America is a land of second chances; a nation of redemption and restoration. Thanks to the outstanding leadership of President Trump and a mighty coalition led by Jared Kushner, Congress took the first step to make sure that Federal prisons reflect these core American values,” said Rebecca Hagelin with the Executive Committee of the Council for National Policy. “As inmates are released in the coming years, we can expect to see a reduction in crime, a reduction in recidivism rates, and a new lease on life for those who have served their time. I will always cherish this day as one when Congress beautifully came together on behalf of all Americans!”

“Today’s vote is a victory for real solutions and hope for incarcerated individuals who want to live a law-abiding productive life,” said former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint. “It is an important step toward reducing crime, reducing costs, and giving a second chance to those who are willing to change. It offers redemption to those who have paid their due, and it offers families hope for a better future in which their loved one can succeed as a contributing member of society.”

Right on Crime is a national campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in partnership  with the American Conservative Union Foundation and Prison Fellowship, that supports conservative solutions for reducing crime, restoring victims, reforming offenders, and lowering taxpayer costs. The movement was born in Texas in 2007, and in recent years, dozens of states such as Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, have led the way in implementing conservative criminal justice reforms.

Right on Crime has the support and works to mobilize the voices of more than ninety prominent conservative leaders who have endorsed the principles of conservative criminal justice reform, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

 

For more information about Right on Crime, please visit www.facebook.com/rightoncrime, @RightonCrime, www.youtube.com/rightoncrime

For more information or to schedule an interview with Right on Crime spokespersons, please contact Kevin McVicker at (703) 739-5920 or kmcvicker@sbpublicaffairs.com.

 

 

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Conservatives urge U.S. House to take up prison reform legislation

Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

As conservatives, we firmly believe in limited, effective government.  It is paramount to ensure that the scope of government does not grow so large as to stifle human flourishing.  No matter if the issue is onerous regulations that smother small businesses or federal mandates on education, the state’s one-size-fits-all approach constantly fails to improve matters and often makes them worse. Perhaps the most noticeable government failure is in the area of public safety.

For decades, we have sought to protect our communities using what we assumed was the best tool at hand: incarceration. Unfortunately, we have never asked ourselves what the end goal should be. Yes, people who commit dangerous crimes must be removed from our communities. However, we failed to consider what we were doing – both inside and outside our prisons – to ensure that those incarcerated ultimately become productive members of society once they return to those communities.

We were buoyed when the White House issued its Principles of Prison Reform and Reentry.  Therein, President Trump outlined seven key tenets of conservative reentry policy, such as a focus on public safety outcomes, the use of proven successful policies, and incentivizing offenders to seek their own redemption rather than simply “waiting out their time.”  Each principle has proven to be effective in states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina where conservative criminal justice polices have been implemented. It is time to take these lessons on prison reform and apply them to the federal system.

On May 9, the House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (H.R. 5682).  Sponsored by Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and with bipartisan support, the FIRST STEP Act improves the federal prison system by providing reentry programming that will increase public safety, reduce recidivism,  and give those incarcerated a second chance once they have paid their debt to society.

We encourage you to quickly take up this legislation and implement each of the principles outlined therein.  The FIRST STEP Act is that  support from conservatives and the majority of the American people.

We commend the House Judiciary Committee and its leaders for taking up this critical issue, which will lead to both safer streets and second chances.

Respectfully,

Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House of Representative

Edwin Meese, Former Attorney General of the United States

Robert Ehrlich, Former Governor of Maryland

Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas

Jim DeMint, Former United States Senator

J.C. Watts, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Bob Barr, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Ken Blackwell, Former Secretary of State (Ohio)

Ken Cuccinelli, Former Attorney General (Virginia)

Bernie Kerik, Former New York Police Commissioner

Jerry Madden, Former Chairman, Texas House Committee on Corrections

David Barton, Wallbuilders

Gary Bauer, American Values

Brent Bozell, Media Research Center

Adam Brandon, Freedom Works

Deborah J. Daniels, Partner, Krieg DeVault LLP

Doug Deason, Deason Foundation

Craig DeRoche, Prison Fellowship

Donald Devine, The Fund for American Studies

Mark Earley, Former Attorney General (Virginia)

Daniel Garza, The Libre Initiative

Rebecca Hagelin, Council for National Policy

David Keene, Editor-at-Large, The Washington Times

Eli Lehrer, R Street Institute

Penny Nance, Concerned Women for American

Lisa Nelson, American Legislative Exchange Council

Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

Pat Nolan, American Conservative Union Foundation

Star Parker, Coalition for Urban Renewal & Education

Ralph Reed, Faith & Freedom Coalition

Brooke Rollins, Texas Public Policy Foundation

Richard Viguerie, American Target Advertising

Robert Woodson, Woodson Center/National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Mark Holden, Freedom Partners

Brent Gardner, Americans for Prosperity

David Barnes, Generation Opportunity

David Safavian, American Conservative Union

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President Trump urges Congress to pass prison reform at White House summit

President Trump signaled that he would sign prison reform legislation if Congress sends it to his desk during Friday’s White House Prison Reform Summit:

“My administration strongly supports these efforts, and I urge the House and Senate to get together… to work out their differences. Get a bill to my desk. I will sign it.”

The prison reform summit—the first of its kind—hosted more than 100 advocates and policymakers brought together to tout the public safety benefits of prison rehabilitation programs. A young girl named Hannah, whose father was incarcerated, testified that these programs can help moms and dads get the help they need before they’re reunited with their kids upon release.

Prison reform legislation passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by an impressive 25-5 vote last week. The bill known as the FIRST STEP Act, authored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incentivizes participation in rehabilitation programs with the opportunity to gain “earned time” credits. In short, these credits allow reformed offenders to spend pre-release custody time in halfway houses or home confinement.

Vice President Mike Pence shared that when he was governor of Indiana, he saw first-hand that workforce training and faith-based programs can have a meaningful impact on inmates’ lives. He said that the federal prison system “costs too much and delivers too little” due to a lack of reentry programs that could otherwise turn around re-offense rates. Currently, issues such as addiction, mental illness, and lack of education and job skills go unaddressed. This often leaves inmates feeling as though they have no option but to return to a life of crime upon release, leading 70 percent to return to prison within five years of release. However, the federal prison system could begin preparing inmates to be self-sufficient upon release by passing prison reform.

“This will be the White House that reforms the American prison system for the betterment of all the American people.”  – Vice President Mike Pence

Prison reform legislation is expected to hit the House floor sometime in the coming weeks. White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner has been working with prison reform advocates and members of Congress to get the bill where it is today. He said the FIRST STEP Act aims to help former offenders gain “the best chance of having a productive life” after prison. The programs were modeled based on success garnered in states that have cut crime and costs simultaneously. No state knows the benefits of prison reform better than Texas.

Texas has reduced its crime rate by more than 30 percent and saved billions of tax dollars with the help of reforms that were passed in 2007. Former Governor Rick Perry said, “[w]e were ruining a lot of lives, lives that we didn’t have to ruin” prior to instituting rehabilitation programs in state prisons. He applauded Brooke Rollins of the Texas Public Policy Foundation for helping lead the charge for reform. Rollins said these results paired with the American principle of redemption should encourage Congress to move prison reform forward.

“This is real conservatism.” – Secretary Rick Perry

Sec. Rick Perry, Brooke Rollins (TPPF), and Van Jones (CNN) speaking at the Prison Reform Summit May 18, 2018.

The White House Prison Reform Summit was brought to a close with remarks by President Trump. He underlined that in order to build a great economy, America must do more to integrate former inmates in its workforce. A lack of prison programs and regulatory barriers to employment can be detrimental to a successful reentry into society. “Nobody wins when former prisoners fail to adjust to life outside, or worse, end up back behind bars,” President Trump said. “We want former inmates to find a path to success so they can support their families and support their communities.” Rehabilitation programs that address the underlying issues behind criminal behavior help inmates stay crime-free upon release. Congress has a huge opportunity to deliver prison reform this session.

“So we’re going to make our communities more secure, and we’re going to make our country more prosperous.  And together, we will make America safer, and stronger, and greater than ever before.”  – President Donald Trump

 

 

White House officials in attendance:
Vice President Pence, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., Secretary of Education Elisabeth Prince DeVos, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, Jim Carroll The Office of National Drug Control Policy, General John Kelly, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, Jared Kushner, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor, Marc Short, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs, Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Andrew Bremberg, Assistant to the President and Director of Domestic Policy Council, Ja’Ron Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Urban Affairs, Andrew Koenig, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs

Legislators and advocates in attendance:
Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan, Congressman Doug Collins, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Brooke Rollins, Texas Public Policy Institute, Van Jones, Cut50, Jessica Jackson Sloane, Cut 50, Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House, Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, Shon Hopwood, Georgetown Law Professor and member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Paula White, Senior Pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, Darrell Scott, Co-founder of the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Mark Goldsmith, Get Out Stay Out, Jim DeMint, Chairman, Conservative Partnership Institute, John Koufos, Executive Director – Safe Streets and Second Chances/National Director of Reentry Initiatives – Right On Crime, Mark Holden, Koch Industries, Bryan Kelley, Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program, Texas, Atif Bostic, Uplift Solutions, Pennsylvania, Tom Streitz, Twin Cities Rise, Minnesota, Beverly Parenti, The Last Mile, California, Topeka Sam, Cut50, Sue Ellen Allen, Reinventing Reentry, Pamela Winn, Restore Her, Rebecca Hagelin, Columnist, David Muhlhausen, Jacob Horowitz, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Amy Solomon, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Derek Cohen, Ph.D., Right On Crime, Edward J. Latessa, Ph.D., The Ohio State University, Matt Whitaker, Department of Justice, Jamal Nelson, Council of State Governments, David Safavian, American Conservative Union, Judith Garrett, Bureau of Prisons, Ivy Woolf Turk, Founder of Project Liberation, Kevin Gay, Operation New Hope, Wilfredo Torres, Federal Probation Officer – District of New Jersey

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Van Jones and Jared Kushner Walked into a bar…

This article by Americans for Tax Reform president and Right on Crime signatory Grover Norquist originally appeared in OZY May 18th, 2018.

There are a whopping 2.2 million American men and women living in cages. The breakdown is 225,000 in U.S. federal prisons, 1,316,000 in state prisons and 615,000 in county and city jails — at an average annual cost to taxpayers of $33,274 each. Ninety-five percent will return to the general population when their sentences end, and nearly 70 percent will be back behind bars within three years.

These numbers were not always so high. Total incarceration was 160,000 in 1950, 213,000 in 1960, 196,000 in 1970, 330,000 in 1980; it lurched upward to 774,000 in 1990, 1,236,000 in 2000 and 1,612,000 in 2010.

The political right and left have starkly different narratives as to how we got here. And yet, while Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., remain gridlocked on mega issues like taxes, spending, labor law, regulations and judicial appointments; at the state level, elected officials from both parties have passed and signed into law significant criminal justice reforms that have begun to reduce the levels of incarceration in 33 states.

So why now? Crime has for decades been one of the more divisive and politically charged issues. Richard Nixon ran on “law and order” in 1968. Ed Koch won the 1973 mayor’s race in New York City campaigning in support of the death penalty. William Horton’s furlough from a life sentence without parole for murdering Joseph Fournier and his subsequent rape of a woman in Maryland was a key factor in George H.W. Bush’s defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1992.

A few factors have enabled left/right coalitions at the state level to make progress on criminal justice reform. First, the crime rate has fallen and receded somewhat from the headlines. The number of murders has been in decline — from 7.9 per 100,000 in 1970 to 10.2 in 1980, and then 9.4 in 1990, 5.5 in 2000 and 4.9 in 2015. Second, fatigue has set in over the drug war. Today, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, and nine states have legalized recreational use.

Third, Texas was the first state to make big moves to reform its justice system, back in 2005 when Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 1678, which incentivized drug courts to send drug users to rehab rather than prison. (Texas does not have mandatory minimum sentences.) Reform was driven in part because, without it, the Lone Star State would’ve needed to build 17,000 new prison beds at a cost of $2 billion. After the reform, Texas closed four prisons, reduced its incarceration numbers from 156,000 in 2011 to 146,000 in 2017, and the crime rate, including violent crime, fell. Which means that Texas, the state that has led the nation in executing murderers, has demonstrated you can be both tough and smart on crime while putting fewer people in prison for shorter sentences.

This Texas example had been in effect for five years when the GOP swept the 2010 elections resulting in 26 states with Republican governors and both houses of the Legislature Republican. Texas taught those states that criminal justice reform reduced costs over time, did not disrupt the declining crime rate and that no one in Texas lost an election for being “weak on crime.” The same initial success in Vermont might not have been as readily copied.

Fourth, the failures of the prison, court and justice system were ripe for reform. Civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize cars, cash and even homes if they “think” it was related to a crime. Often no conviction is needed; sometimes no formal charge is made. But how many victims take the risk of going to court and possibly spending more for lawyers than the car or cash were worth? In 2015, the Treasury and Justice Department took and kept more cash through civil asset forfeiture ($5 billion) than all the burglaries ($3.5 billion) in America.

An explosion of new crimes, owing to “overcriminalization,” has swelled the number of federal laws to 6,000 and regulations to 200,000 that could send you to prison. Many of those laws/regulations lack a mens rea (guilty mind) requirement, meaning you can go to prison for violating a law you never knew existed and for doing so without criminal intent.

Successes at reversing this trend at the state level might just lead to a win in Congress. On April 18, Van Jones (host of CNN’s The Van Jones Show) and Jared Kushner, first son-in-law, went to Congress to meet with dozens of legislators in support of the Prison Reform and Redemption Act co-sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. It would substantially refocus federal prison toward rehabilitation and increase the ability of inmates to win time off for successfully readying themselves for life back in the free world. The bill would also ensure that federal prisoners are housed within 500 miles of their home — making family visits and prisoner transport easier.

But what was a consensus issue heading for certain passage just weeks ago is now in doubt. A number of key Democrats are demanding that the modest reform of the federal prison system also include substantial sentencing reform that is less likely to win a House floor vote. Some have suggested that Democrats would do well to wait and see what happens in the November midterm elections before supporting first-step legislation (an approach that delayed and then killed criminal justice reform in the last two years of the Obama administration). But the debate is not entirely divided along party lines. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley, is also holding firm for the more ambitious sentencing reforms, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, supports a clean prison reform bill.

Despite recent complications, criminal justice reform remains the most likely zone for bipartisan cooperation and progress in both the states and Congress. The newly amended and renamed First Step Act, now including some additional sentencing reform, was just approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a strong 25-5 vote. So, for now, the partisans are failing in their efforts to make the perfect the enemy of the good. We may soon have one step forward that could lead to further progress on additional sentencing reform, civil asset forfeiture, mens reas and overcriminalization.

 

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Take the first step on evidence-based criminal justice reform

This article by FreedomWorks President and Right on Crime Signatory Adam Brandon originally appeared in The Hill May 17th, 2018.

After years of talking about reforming the federal prison system, Congress may finally be ready to act.

The House Judiciary Committee recently approved the FIRST STEP Act, H.R. 5682, by a strong vote of 25-5, paving the way for a vote on the House floor. The bill may not be the comprehensive criminal justice reform that everyone wants, but it does mark an important step toward lowering recidivism rates and promoting safety in communities across the country.

Every prisoner would be subject to a risk and needs assessment, and offered the opportunity to participate in programming to lower his or her likelihood of recidivism. Prisoners are incentivized to successfully complete the programming by allowing qualifying offenders to cash in successful completion of programming to serve a portion of their sentence in transitional housing, including a halfway house or home confinement.

The FIRST STEP Act is modeled after the successful, evidence-based initiatives of more than 30 states to reduce recidivism rates by providing rehabilitative programming — including drug treatment, education, and job training — in prisons. States like Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas have become national leaders in the effort to give people a second chance to become productive tax-paying citizens.

Recent data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 35 states with programming similar to the FIRST STEP Act had successfully reduced crime rates between 2008 and 2016 while also reducing imprisonment rates.

The list is a proverbial “who’s who” of criminal justice reform. National leaders like Georgia and Texas have seen declines in both crime and imprisonment rates. Alabama and Mississippi have also seen tremendous progress using in-prison programs designed to reduce recidivism and diversion programs to address addiction.

Seeing this level of success at the state level inspired Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Ky.) and Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) to make criminal justice reform a part of their legislative agendas.

“With a rising prison population, severely depleted workforce participation rates, and the highest percentage in the nation of children with at least one incarcerated parent, we unfortunately had plenty of room for improvement,” wrote Gov. Bevin in November 2017. “For years Kentucky had maintained an outdated, ‘lock-em-up and throw away the key’ approach. That was unsustainable from both a societal and financial cost and we were determined to shake up the status quo.”

The states have spoken. Now, it’s time to bring evidence-based criminal justice reform to the national level. President Donald Trump dedicated part of his first State of the Union address to endorsing prison reform. He told Congress:

“As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

Additionally, a group of 121 former federal prosecutors have sent a letterto congressional leadership urging passage of the FIRST STEP Act. They cite benefits of the legislation for federal law enforcement and for public safety, saying that this bill “will increase the safety of our communities and the law enforcement agents and officers who protect them.”

Opponents of the FIRST STEP Act are using falsehoods and scare-tactic terms like “jailbreak” to stoke opposition to the bill. It’s bizarre to see a group of individuals so passionately dedicated to making sure their fellow Americans don’t become productive members of society.

State-level efforts have proven that criminal justice reform works. The vast majority of offenders will be released from prison at some point. It makes financial and moral sense to prevent them from resuming a life of crime after returning to their families.

There is a long road ahead for comprehensive criminal justice reform. But passing the FIRST STEP Act would be, well, the logical first step.

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Washington could take a lesson from Texas on prison reform

This article by Marc Levin originally appeared in Dallas Morning News May 15th, 2018.

Texans can teach Washington, D.C., a few lessons when it comes to barbecue, balanced budgets and criminal justice reform.

If Congress can put aside the gridlock, it can unlock the benefits that Texas has achieved through a decade of changes to its prison policies. Fortunately, Texas’ own Sen. John Cornyn is joining with bipartisan congressional leaders including Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., to take advantage of this bipartisan opening at a time when the two parties can’t agree on anything besides Teacher Appreciation Week.

The legislation in question, the First Step Act, was approved by an impressive 25-5 bipartisan vote on a Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee. It is modeled after the blueprint that Texas employed to drive down its incarceration rate by more than 20 percent since 2005 at the same time it achieved a crime decline of more than 30 percent.

In 2007, Texas was at a crossroads as it faced building more than 17,000 new prison beds that were projected to be needed. Instead, policymakers adopted a justice reinvestment package that expanded alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts and mental health treatment.

The package also cleared out backlogs for treatment programs behind bars that had waiting lists of many months. Such programs are often a condition of release even after approval by the Parole Board. This enabled more people in prison to be good candidates for parole, leading to higher parole rates and thousands fewer new crimes by parolees. Meanwhile, the parole system implemented graduated sanctions and incentives and restored the chaplain program so parolees could connect with churches and other religious congregations, rather than gangs.

Then in 2011 Texas doubled down on its reforms by enacting a policy allowing those in state jails to earn time by completing programs, such as educational, vocational and treatment interventions, that are correlated with reduced recidivism. Since then, thousands of those confined in state jails have earned up to 20 percent off their sentences as a result of being incentivized in this way.

While there is an element of luck in our daily lives, those of us who do not live in prison generally experience a connection between the efforts we expend and the results we experience. By allowing many of those in prison to earn time by completing programs proved to reduce recidivism and expanding the availability of such programs, the First Step Act would enable the federal prison system to gain from what Texas has learned.

Of course, the First Step Act recognizes that not everyone behind bars should be eligible for a reduction. Had Osama bin Laden not met justice courtesy of America’s finest and ultimately been placed in federal prison, he certainly should not have received any such opportunity. So the First Step Act appropriately excludes the most serious offenses such as terrorism from earning credits through completing programming.

It is called the First Step Act for a reason, as it does not purport to fix every problem in the federal system. Other needed changes, such as reining in mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses, can and should be addressed in future legislation.

One thing is for sure. We know that about 40,000 people will be released this year from federal prison to live near  you and me. Many of them will not have completed programs that could have reduced the risk they pose to society and improved their chances of holding jobs. Texas policymakers of both parties put on their boots, rolled up their sleeves, and herded the votes to deliver successful prison reform. Let’s bring that Texan can-do spirit to D.C. and draw upon the wisdom of former President Ronald Reagan, who said “there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

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Right on Crime Statement on Judiciary Committee Passage of First Step Act

Austin, TX — The House Judiciary Committee today approved by a vote of 25-5 the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (H.R. 5682).  Sponsored by Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the FIRST STEP Act improves the federal prison by providing reentry programming to help reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and give those incarcerated a second chance once they have paid their debt to society. Right on Crime signatories former Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint issued the following statements on the committee action:

“FIRST STEP Act will help stop the vicious cycle of offense and imprisonment by addressing the underlying causes of criminality. The opportunity to go from prison to paycheck improves public safety, reduces recidivism and gives a second chance to those who have paid their debt to society. I commend the bill sponsors and the House Judiciary Committee for the work they put into getting this bill out of committee. I encourage House Leadership to bring it to the floor quickly for consideration, so we can put a stop to the revolving door of offense and imprisonment,” said Ken Cuccinelli, former Attorney General of Virginia and Right on Crime signatory.

“I applaud the House Judiciary Committee for approving the FIRST STEP Act. Prison reform has proven successful in reducing recidivism, improving public safety and saving taxpayer dollars in states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina. Passing this bill out of committee is the first step toward implementing similar reforms at the federal level and giving incarcerated people the tools they need to become productive members of society,” said Jim DeMint, former Member of the United States Senate.

Right on Crime is a national campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in partnership  with the American Conservative Union Foundation and Prison Fellowship, that supports conservative solutions for reducing crime, restoring victims, reforming offenders, and lowering taxpayer costs. The movement was born in Texas in 2005, and in recent years, dozens of states such as Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, have led the way in implementing conservative criminal justice reforms.

Right on Crime has the support and works to mobilize the voices of more than ninety prominent conservative leaders who have endorsed the principles of conservative criminal justice reform, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Right on Crime spokespersons, please contact Kevin McVicker at (703) 739-5920 or kmcvicker@sbpublicaffairs.com.

 

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Lawmakers must set differences aside to help Trump with prison reform

This article by Right on Crime signatory and member of the Executive Committee of the Council for National Policy Rebecca Hagelin originally appeared in The Washington Times April 29th, 2018.

No one can legitimately deny that improving public safety has been a central focus of Donald Trump’s presidency since Day One.

But it seems as though many of the president’s political enemies relish attacking him more than they value developing solutions.

Reducing crime is something that Democrats and Republicans can and should work together to achieve. After all, crime is an equal opportunity offender, affecting liberals and conservatives alike.

It’s time for our lawmakers in Congress to set antagonism aside long enough to help the president in his endeavor to better protect all of America’s families.

Many from both sides of the political aisle are doing exactly that. Stepping away from their differences, a bipartisan coalition is finalizing legislation that would reduce crime by slashing our nation’s recidivism rates, which are shamefully among the highest in the world.

The president and White House staff, led by Jared Kushner, have held numerous bipartisan meetings with governors, lawmakers, prison and law enforcement officials to create a federal system that will more effectively reintegrate former convicts into society — convicts who will one day be your neighbors.

The current reality about life after prison is ugly: Nearly half of the 650,000 people released every year will end up back behind bars within three years. Thousands of others commit crimes for which they have yet to be caught.

This awful truth means more victims, more wasted tax dollars and more wasted human potential. Such a reality should be unacceptable in a civil society.

Yet out of fear of being dubbed “soft on crime,” many lawmakers have been content to pretend that they are “tough on crime” by refusing to even acknowledge, let alone address, the urgent need for prison reform.

Other lawmakers who advocate for comprehensive sentencing reform are stalling bipartisan efforts such as the Prison Reform and Redemption Act that had been scheduled for mark-up last week in the House Judiciary Committee. For some ideologues, it is an all-or-nothing mandate.

While there is an obvious need to make thoughtful changes in current sentencing laws on the federal and state levels, it is foolish and immoral not to immediately institute effective methods that we know reduce crime and help restore lives.

By halting prison reform efforts in the name of sentencing reform, even the most sincere lawmakers are holding men and women already behind bars captive from hope and help.

And make no mistake: If prison reform is killed, the net result will be more victims.

While the extreme left and mainstream media obsess over trying to divide our country, real people are suffering. That’s why the president and the bipartisan contingency continue their important work unfettered, methodically moving forward to increase public safety and provide a second chance to those who have served their time.

With 95 percent of federal and state prisoners destined to be released into society, the coalition is committed to making sure that those who want to start over are “job ready” and prepared for a successful new life.

A key element of the Prison Reform and Redemption Act — sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, and Hakeem Jeffries, New York Democrat — is the requirement to assess each federal prisoner and match his or her risk and needs to proper resources, thus increasing their chances of successful reentry.

Similar measures have been implemented in states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas and others to reduce crime, save tax payers billions of dollars and help redeem lives.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Trump stated: “As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

Successful re-entry from prison starts the first day someone enters a cell. We as a nation can no longer afford to simply warehouse prisoners when we could be using their incarceration not only to punish but also to provide training and rehabilitation to help them succeed after release.

While some insist on a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system in one impossible sweep, real people are left languishing behind bars, deprived of the help they need to change.

The faster Congress acts to institute proven prison reform practices, the sooner all of America will benefit.

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Conservatives urge House Judiciary Committee to take up prison reform legislation

April 23, 2018

Dear Chairman Goodlatte and Members of the United States House Judiciary Committee:

As conservatives, we firmly believe in limited, effective government.  It is paramount to ensure that the scope of government does not grow so large as to stifle human flourishing.  No matter if the issue is onerous regulations that smother small businesses or federal mandates on education, the state’s one-size-fits-all approach constantly fails to improve matters and often makes them worse.

We recognize that this phenomenon is not limited to areas where the government doesn’t belong, such as private industry.  It is also present where the government has a compelling interest.  Perhaps the most noticeable government failure in a legitimate public arena is in the area of public safety.

For decades, we have sought to protect our communities using what we assumed was the best tool at hand: incarceration. Unfortunately, we have never asked ourselves what the end goal should be. Yes, people who commit dangerous crimes must be removed from our communities. However, we failed to consider what we were doing – both inside and outside our prisons – to ensure that those incarcerated ultimately become productive members of society.

As such, we were buoyed last month when the White House issued its Principles of Prison Reform and Reentry.  Therein, President Trump outlined seven key tenets of conservative reentry policy, such as a focus on public safety outcomes, the use of proven successful policies, and incentivizing offenders to seek their own redemption rather than simply “waiting out their time.”  Each principle has proven to be effective in states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina where conservative criminal justice polices have been implemented. It is time to take these lessons on prison reform and apply them to the federal system.

There is currently legislation before the House Judiciary Committee that would codify several of the White House’s principles.  We encourage this committee to take up this legislation, strengthen it to accomplish each of these principles, and send it to the House Floor where it will surely draw a warm reception from those representing us and others in the Conservative Movement.

We commend the House Judiciary Committee and its leaders for taking up this critical issue, which will lead to both safer streets and second chances.

Respectfully,

Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House of Representative

Edwin Meese, Former Attorney General of the United States

Robert Ehrlich, Former Governor of Maryland

Mike Huckabee, Former Governor of Arkansas

Jim DeMint, Former United States Senator

Penny Nance, Concerned Women for American

J.C. Watts, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Bob Barr, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Ken Blackwell, Former Secretary of State (Ohio)

Ken Cuccinelli, Former Attorney General (Virginia)

Bernie Kerik, Former New York Police Commissioner

Jerry Madden, Former Chairman, Texas House Committee on Corrections

Brooke Rollins, Texas Public Policy Foundation

David Barton, Wallbuilders

Gary Bauer, American Values

Brent Bozell, Media Research Center

Brent Gardner, Americans for Prosperity

Adam Brandon, Freedom Works

Deborah J. Daniels, Partner, Krieg DeVault LLP

Craig DeRoche, Prison Fellowship

Donald Devine, The Fund for American Studies

Mark Earley, Former Attorney General (Virginia)

Daniel Garza, The Libre Initiative

Rebecca Hagelin, Council for National Policy

Mark Holden, Freedom Partners

David Keene, Editor-at-Large, The Washington Times

Eli Lehrer, R Street Institute

Lisa Nelson, American Legislative Exchange Council

Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

Star Parker, Coalition for Urban Renewal & Education

Ralph Reed, Faith & Freedom Coalition

Richard Viguerie, American Target Advertising

Robert Woodson, Woodson Center/National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

David Barnes, Generation Opportunity

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It’s Time to Fix Our Broken Prison System

This article by Right on Crime signatory Newt Gingrich and marketing director and project coordinator for Gingrich Productions, Audrey Bird, was published by Fox News April 20th 2018. 

How big is our nation’s prison problem?

Let’s look at the numbers. One in 31 adults in the United States is either behind bars, on parole, or on probation. Since the 1980s, when Congress implemented mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, the federal prison population in the United States skyrocketed from 24,000 to over 183,000 federal inmates today.

The process is even worse on the local level. For example, in 2018, there were more than 1.31 million state prisoners. With these staggering statistics, it is not shocking that over the course of a 33-year period, state and local spending on corrections saw an increase of 324 percent by 2012 – three times the amount of growth for education spending.

This data is hard to ignore, which is why President Trump, along with Republicans and Democrats in Congress are making prison reform a priority.

On April 18 a bipartisan group of prison reform advocates, including Jared Kushner, Van Jones, and Grover Norquist, joined the American Conservative Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and other groups for a lobby day on Capitol Hill. Their goal is to push Congress to pass the Prison Reform and Redemption Act (H.R. 3356). The bill, sponsored by Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) and backed by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), is a bipartisan attempt to reduce recidivism rates for soon-to-be released inmates.

The legislation would require the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to create and implement risk assessment tools and recidivism reduction plans for each inmate and would require the BOP to create rehabilitative programs with the collaboration of groups, such as nonprofits, faith, or community based organizations. These programs would include job training, workforce development, and – importantly – opioid and heroin treatment plans.

Another portion of this bill would give eligible, nonviolent criminals the opportunity to earn time credits to be applied toward their sentences as a result of their successful participation. The goal is to give inmates the tools they need to succeed when they leave prison, so they don’t end up returning.

These measures would help reduce prison populations, make our communities safer, and boost the economy as more able-bodied people leave prison and find work.

Prison reform is one of our nation’s most pressing issues, yet with the media’s insatiable desire to report on anything other than substance, it should come as no surprise that many Americans are unaware of this proposed bipartisan legislation. Likewise, the White House’s support of measures that enact reforms to reduce recidivism rates has gone largely unreported.

While President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are steadfast in their commitment to remain tough on crime, they also recognize the benefits of implementing programs that prepare inmates to re-enter society. In fact, during a meeting on prison reform at the White House on January 11, President Trump said, “Two thirds of the 650,000 people released from prison each year are arrested again within three years. We can help break this vicious cycle through job training… mentoring, and drug addiction treatment.”

Passing the Collins-Jeffries Prison Reform and Redemption Act is the perfect opportunity for Republicans to show leadership and focus on a bipartisan issue that affects many Americans across the country.

According to a 2010 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, one out of every 28 children in America has at least one parent incarcerated. At the same time 25 percent of U.S. prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. Many of these people need treatment for their addictions – not jail time.

It is time for a change within state and federal correction systems. Jared Kushner may have conveyed it best in his recent interview with ABC, in which he said, “The Administration wants to assist long-time prison reform advocates with their initiative to create a prison system that will rehabilitate citizens who have made mistakes, paid the price, and are deserving of a second chance…”

Even those who are unmoved by the humanitarian need for prison reform should be able to see the fiscal sense it makes. On average, it costs taxpayers, $31,977.65 per year to incarcerate each federal inmate.

Preventing released inmates from returning to prison will ultimately reduce the cost of the federal prison system dramatically. Perhaps this money can be used to start chipping away at our $21 trillion national debt.

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The White House aims to fix the big house

This article by Marc Levin originally appeared in The Hill March 30th, 2018.


President Trump
 and his senior advisor Jared Kushner have spent their lives beneath the glare of the bright lights of Manhattan, but it is the nation’s darkest and most forgotten locations that have recently peaked their interest: America’s prisons. On Feb. 28, the administration released a document entitled “Principles of Prison Reform and Reentry” that puts the administration firmly on the side of rehabilitation and redemption.

The leadership of President Trump and Kushner couldn’t be timelier given that there are nearly 650,000 Americans released from prisons every year, not to mention millions discharged from local jails. Wouldn’t we be safer if they left more prepared to hold a job and follow the law?

The Trump administration’s plan calls for sensible reforms such as creating incentives for inmates to complete programs that reduce recidivism and instituting prison work programs that train inmates to do jobs available in the economy upon release. It also highlights the importance of risk and needs assessments that match the right offender to the right program.

Some are surprised this White House is backing prison reform, but this effort has been a long time in the making. Back in October 2017, Kushner brought me and others who had been working in this field for years to the White House to engage in what turned out to be a series of discussions on solutions and strategies for achieving them.

Since then, the president and Kushner have held a series of public and private sessions at the White House with governors, academic experts, treatment providers, conservatives and liberals, and formerly incarcerated people who are now helping others coming out of prison. The White House is now well versed on the latest innovations in the field, learning firsthand from those pioneering programs such as those teaching prisoners to be software engineers and providing reentering citizens with an app to help fulfill their parole supervision and treatment obligations.

As a result, in his widely acclaimed State of the Union speech, the president issued this call to action: “As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

Inspired by Kushner’s commitment to promoting successful reentry, we joined with the Koch Companies and Florida State University to launch Safe Streets and Second Chances, which is creating pilot programs in four states to provide a seamless transition to employment and self-sufficiency for people coming out of prison. While there are many good programs in the reentry sphere, many only begin working with clients once they are discharged. However, the research suggests that mentoring and training are most effective if they begin during incarceration and continue during the transition to society. Additionally, Safe Streets and Second Chances is designed to bring successful reentry to scale, with the goal of eventually being in all 50 states.

Meanwhile, the administration is pushing forward on the policy level, spearheading the reestablishment of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council that will assemble the leaders of all relevant federal agencies to identify opportunities for action. For example, with many agencies overseeing decaying infrastructure, could there be opportunities to break down barriers that would enable more people with criminal records to help rebuild our nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and airports?

Finally, this administration has been deeply engaged in working with members of Congress on advancing reforms to the federal prison system. It hardly seems a coincidence that after press accounts of the White House sessions on the topic, bills from 2017 began to be refiled and members of Congress began to talk openly about enacting meaningful reforms this year. While Congress is considering a broad range of reforms that have merit, it makes sense to initially prioritize legislation where a consensus exists that would allow for passage this year, such as bills that provide earned time for completing recidivism reduction programs.

The White House, working with Congress, appears to be on the verge of transforming reentry to improve public safety and move more people from prison to paycheck.

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The White House pushes for more work programs in prisons

The White House gave lawmakers the go ahead on legislative efforts to strengthen reentry programs for prisoners. The Trump administration made recommendations based on what has worked to reduce recidivism throughout the states, such as more prison work programs and encouraging businesses to hire former offenders.

A state that knows this better than most is Kentucky, where Gov. Matt Bevin has worked to reduce employment barriers. The Governor’s goal is to provide second chances for offenders who have served their time and are ready to return as productive members of society. Studies show that former offenders who are able to find meaningful work are less likely to reoffend. Reducing barriers to employment, such as burdensome occupational licensing laws, increases the field of opportunity for former offenders to pursue a productive path. Earlier this week, the administration met with Gov. Matt Bevin, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and a number of businesses to discuss the challenges and benefits of hiring people who have criminal records.

President Trump first signaled support of second chances in his State of the Union address earlier this year. It was in this speech that Trump announced his administration would “embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance at life.” Since then, he and his advisors have acted on that support by hosting a number of meetings with governors, criminal justice reform experts, and advocates from the faith community to determine the strongest solutions to fight recidivism. Former Attorney General of Virginia and Right on Crime Signatory, Ken Cuccinelli, voiced optimism for reforms passing this session. “The message I took from the meeting at the White House on criminal justice reform is that they have come up with a set of reforms to our prison and re-entry system that the President himself is enthusiastic about and that the American people will appreciate and support.”

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Yes, Trump is Embracing Criminal Justice Reform

This article by Right on Crime Signatories Ken Blackwell and Ken Cuccinelli originally appeared in the Washington Examiner, February 12th, 2018.

Throughout the last election cycle, there came fevered predictions from many commentators on the Left that, given candidate Donald Trump’s frank messaging about returning to “law and order” and confronting violent crime in American cities, criminal justice reform efforts were officially dead in the water. Criminal justice reform appears “bleak in the age of Trump,” stated one article. “How Criminal Justice Reform Died,” intoned another.

Such fatalism was both misplaced and inaccurate. Misplaced, because the lion’s share of successful criminal justice reforms over the last ten years have advanced at the state and local levels, not in D.C.— mainly by southern red states. With oversight over roughly 90 percent of the country’s incarcerated population, the states will always be the primary mover of criminal justice policies, not the federal government.

But such predictions have now been proven inaccurate as well, given recent remarks made by now-President Trump about the need for federal prison reform.

On Jan. 11, joined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, conservative governors, faith leaders, and justice reform advocates, President Trump drew on the experience of effective state reforms to seek opportunities to “improve our federal prison system, to better promote public safety, and to help former prisoners to reenter society as productive citizens.” He went on to explain that because the great majority of them will leave prison eventually, society has “a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance, and make our communities safe.”

He’s exactly right. As many as 95 percent of those currently incarcerated will one day be released, and history has painted a grim picture of how they will fare. Of the 650,000 prisoners who are released nationwide every year, about two-thirds will be rearrested within three years. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of adequate programming behind bars, as well as numerous consequences that come with having a criminal conviction — for example, difficulty renting, getting certain jobs, and obtaining most occupational licenses.

Society is justified in expecting individuals to take ownership not just for their actions, but also for their reformation. This is hampered, however, when the weight of accumulated barriers to re-entry becomes a millstone. Research has been clear that getting a job upon release is among the most critical steps to reducing a person’s likelihood for recidivism. When President Trump and others say society has a “great interest” in helping ex-offenders get on the path of self-sufficiency, he’s speaking a well-established truism.

Fortunately, conservative states have long since begun helping ex-offenders land on their feet upon release. Chief among them: Texas, long known as a “tough on crime” stalwart. In 2007, state lawmakers passed a $241 million “justice reinvestment” package to increase capacity for substance abuse and mental health treatment and expand probation and parole services, as well as community-based diversion programs. This avoided the immediate need for $2.1 billion in spending just to meet their expected needs for new prison capacity.

More recently, Texas has passed indemnity laws to insulate employers and landlords from liability when they extend a job or lease to ex-offenders. This makes it less likely that a criminal record will be an insuperable barrier to work or finding a place to live.

Communities in Texas have been getting safer at the same time. Crime rates have fallen by 31 percent, while incarceration rates have fallen by more than 20 percent. Eight prisons have been shuttered even as Texas’ population has soared, saving millions in annual operating costs.

In 2012, Georgia began investing in efforts aimed at reducing recidivism, including an expansion of in-prison educational resources. They’ve since reduced their prison population and nearly eliminated its backlog of inmates awaiting transfer, all the while reducing crime by 8 percent and saving $25 million. A large reform package passed in Louisiana last year has similar aims of steering less serious offenders away from incarceration and into more effective community-based programs. South Carolina, Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, and others have passed comprehensive reforms, as well.

As we mentioned above, the states are the natural gatekeepers for criminal justice reform. But Congress has shortcomings within its own prison system to address, and is quickly running out of excuses for doing so. President Trump, whom so many on the Left falsely assumed would spell the end of reform, has instead sounded a clarion call to advance it.

He was right for doing so, as many conservative states have proved, and it’s time Congress took up that challenge as well.

Ken Blackwell is former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and former Mayor of Cincinnati. Ken Cuccinelli is former Attorney General of Virginia. Both are signatories to the Right on Crime statement of principles.

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Ways to Help Failing Prison System

This article by Right on Crime Signatory and President of Texas Public Policy Foundation, Brooke Rollins, and Chairman of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Mark Holden, originally appeared in The Advocate, February 6th, 2018. 

Around 2 million individuals are behind bars in America’s criminal justice system. And almost all of them will eventually return to the communities they left behind. As a nation, we are failing to serve those communities by not preparing former inmates to re-enter society and lead productive and fulfilling lives.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said, “As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

We are proud to be part of a new initiative, Safe Streets and Second Chances, which will work to combine policy reforms and evidence-based re-entry programs that will measure success not by incarceration rates but by whether former inmates are rehabilitated and capable of redemption. Researchers will initially examine four states — Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — and work to prepare people for re-entry beginning on day one of their prison sentence, and have an individualized plan in place within two months of incarceration.

The numbers indicate the scope of the challenge. More than three out of four former inmates return to prison within five years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That is a moral crime and a fiscal disaster. And, worst of all, it is an unforgivable waste of human potential. Nationally, more than 600,000 former inmates re-enter society every year. More than 100,000 of those are in our four targeted states.

Safe Streets and Second Chances will work with states to institute substance abuse and psychiatric counseling for individuals with mental illnesses or drug addictions; educational and literacy programs; vocational programs that teach usable job skills, and mentoring capabilities. Such programs should involve faith leaders and public-private partnerships, so the comparative advantages of these sectors can be brought to bear on the rehabilitation and redemption of individuals. Emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation is costly — $80 billion a year for incarceration at last count, and an even higher cost in the diminution of the human spirit.

The system traps individuals in a soul-crushing cycle of poverty and prison, while doing next to nothing to make our streets safer. Proposals to address these challenges are not pie-in-sky do-gooderism. They are a clear-eyed assessment based on evidence and experience. In 2007, Texas projected it would need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years. After implementing these and many other reforms, including expanded drug courts and mental health programs, crime dropped 31 percent — to levels not seen since the 1960s. Texas closed four prisons with plans to close four more, and saved $3 billion in the process.

South Carolina enacted similar reforms and cut its prison population by 14 percent, closed six prisons and saved $491 million. Other states have seen the results and are instituting programs focusing on education and training that are showing success in rehabilitating individuals and reducing recidivism. If three out of four patients were dying in our hospitals, or three out of four combat soldiers were ill-prepared to face the enemy, we’d do something about it. In a hurry.

Three out of four people in jail today will probably be back there if we don’t do something about it. In a hurry.

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