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Criminal justice reform is still on the cards

This article by former Maryland Governor and Right on Crime signatory Robert Ehrlich originally appeared in Washington Examiner August 9, 2018.

It’s the great “purple” issue of our hyper-partisan era. The Left has agitated for it, and the intellectual Right has devoted considerable resources to selling it to a distrustful base.

No other issue besides criminal justice reform could bring George Soros and the Koch brothers together in common cause.

But before everyone gets too chummy, a word of warning: The universe of criminal justice reform is complicated and politically challenging. The issue includes essentially four related but distinct elements of sentencing, incarceration, re-entry, and collateral consequences.

Sentencing reform will ideally look at our federal and state sentencing statutes, particularly those 1980s-era “war on crime” laws that replaced trial judges’ sentencing discretion with mandatory minimum sentences. These also “waived” thousands of youthful offenders to adult court and adult prisons.

America’s resulting incarceration rate of 860 per 100,000 remains the highest in the world. In response, the states and the federal government have been aggressively implementing nonincarceration reforms — typically to bipartisan applause.

The issue of incarceration includes emotional issues such as solitary confinement, religious freedom in prison, and capital punishment. Here, progress is (unfortunately) measured more by consent decrees and precedent-setting court decisions than by lawmaking.

Re-entry is a “hot” topic within the halls of Congress and at the White House, because it’s where the rubber meets the road for offenders returning to the “real world.” How do we discourage recidivism? It is here that the paradigm is changing from punishment to rehabilitation, a process that reformers wish to commence at the very beginning of a criminal sentence. Accordingly, terms such as “pre-entry” have entered the lexicon — referring to a process focused on turning lives around while doing time in some of the more dangerous places on Earth.

A balance must be struck: The system should provide skills training, GED programs, drug rehabilitation services, and faith-based options — but there is still a punishment element that should not be ignored.

All of which leads to the more complex fourth element: how to deal with collateral consequences. In laymen’s terms, what can and should be done to restore rights once lost through conviction, but now (potentially) available again because an offender has completed his sentence.

Much of the debate centers on employment opportunities. After all, how can society expect an ex-offender to resume employment (let alone a career) when the scarlet letter of “ex-con” is forever a part of his resume? The states in particular have found numerous ways around this canard, including but not limited to “banning” the box on employment applications, so that ex-cons at least get a chance to make a good impression in person; judicially approved expurgation of criminal records; judicially approved “certifications of rehabilitation”; executive pardons; and sealing of some records. These and similar remedies for primarily nonviolent offenses are becoming popular. Often, the relief will include restoration of a professional license.

The bottom line to all this is a clear record — a fresh start. But two significant issues emerge. The first concerns where to draw the line in order to protect prospective employers. A minor check kiting charge from twenty years ago should not be an obstacle to employment, but what if the open position is a bank teller? The “inform/don’t inform” line is usually drawn by legislatures, and that’s no easy task.

The second issue deals with restoration of other rights and privileges: voting; access to public housing; and access to other government benefits. Again, the question of how long to wear the scarlet letter once time has been served.

Fortunately, there is federal momentum on this front. Jared Kushner’s “Office of American Innovation” is wholly invested in this important issue. President Trump has issued an executive order creating an interagency council devoted to identifying re-entry best practices. The administration has also endorsed the Cornyn-Collins “Second Chance” bill in the Senate — a bill that gives prisoners incentives to enroll in drug treatment, education, and skills training in order to earn early halfway house or home confinement status prior to their official release date.

With the media fully engaged with immigration reform, North Korea negotiations, and FBI scandals, it is easy to lose sight of important developments on issues that are closer to home. Accordingly, all interested parties should be on the lookout for additional initiatives from an administration that really is intent on infusing more “justice”

 

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President Trump Approves Adding Sentencing Reform to Prison Reform Bill

Austin, TX — Today, Right on Crime praised President Trump for taking his support for prison reform a step further by approving a modest amount of sentencing reform as an addition to the prison reform bill known as the Formerly Incarcerated Re-enter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (FIRST STEP Act).

“It’s important the President is open to limited sentencing reform being added to the prison reform legislation being considered in the Senate,” said Former House Speaker and Right on Crime Signatory Newt Gingrich.  “The guilty must be held to account, and it is our responsibility to ensure the punishment fits the crime.  Certain sentencing statutes have not performed as intended, have led to unjust consequences, and should be eliminated.  Adding such provisions to the FIRST STEP Act is just common sense.”

“What a gratifying moment for the faith community to see President Trump acknowledge his support for both prison and sentencing reform. Our congregations know first-hand the devastating effects of crime and incarceration,” said Senior Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy of Prison and Right on Crime Signatory Craig DeRoche. “Our belief in fairness and the power of redemption compel our support for these reforms. We pray the Senate will act swiftly to bring relief to the tens of thousands of people in federal prisons and their families.”

“The President has provided a way forward, and we encourage the Senate to act swiftly,” said Former U.S. Senator and Right on Crime Signatory Jim DeMint. 

The bill provides incentives for inmates to undergo counselling, substance abuse rehabilitation, and vocational training before they are released from prison. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the FIRST STEP Act in May.

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 90 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.rightoncrime.com,

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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Reducing the prison population is a bipartisan goal

This article by Right on Crime signatory and co-founder of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University Doug Deason originally appeared in Dallas Morning News July 28th 2018.

About 1.5 million people are sitting in state and federal prisons across the U.S. today, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, many for nonviolent crimes. Prisoners all too often face inhumane conditions and are woefully unprepared to rejoin society as peaceful, productive and law-abiding citizens.

This weekend I will join Charles Koch and other business and philanthropic leaders for a retreat in Colorado Springs to discuss how we can work together to solve this and other challenges and create a freer and more open society.

We know challenges like these can’t be solved alone. We stand ready to, in the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

And there are few issues in which “doing right” is more urgently needed than fixing our broken criminal justice system.

Chart the growth of the prison population in the U.S. over the last 100 years and you will draw something resembling a hockey stick. For many decades the number of prisoners grew steadily, and as recently as 1972 the total prison population was under 200,000, according to BJS data. In subsequent decades that number exploded, peaking at 1.6 million in 2008 and settling at about 1.5 million today. These figures do not include those prisoners in county jails.

Because this issue now touches so many different lives in so many communities in so many ways, reform has fast become a bipartisan priority.

Many are rightfully alarmed at the inequities in the criminal justice system. African-Americans make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for one-third of inmates, according to the BJS, and compared to the general population, prisoners are far more likely to have a history of mental health problems and drug abuse. A Brookings Institution study found that four out of every five prisoners had zero earnings when they entered prison.

Then there are the costs to taxpayers and innocent family members. The annual cost of running the corrections systems at the national, federal, state and local levels exceeds $80 billion, according to a Washington University in St. Louis study. It is a system that frequently turns folks who were once taxpayers into wards of the state. And it leaves many mothers and fathers to raise their children alone and without the aid of child support.

These mounting concerns have energized support for reform across the political spectrum. As a co-founder of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University, I have participated in panel discussions with CNN’s Van Jones to highlight the need for cutting incarceration rates. As a Republican businessman and a Democratic political commentator, we don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to politics. But like many Americans, we are willing to put our differences aside to address this critical problem.

As U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., recently said, according to Townhall.com, “overcriminalization is increasingly viewed as not a Republican or a Democrat problem but as an American problem.”

Jeffries and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., are co-sponsors of the First Step Act, legislation that would help rehabilitate prisoners and save taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.

The First Step Act embodies the smart-on-crime approach that has led to lower prison populations and lower crime rates in Texas and other states. The bill would increase prisoners’ access to job training and educational programs to improve their re-entry into society. Prisoners who successfully complete these programs could earn up to 54 days toward an early release.

Reforming the criminal justice system won’t be easy or quick. It will require a long-term commitment. But if we want to break the barriers that keep too many Americans trapped in lives of crime and poverty, we will all need to work with unlikely partners.

The leaders gathering in Colorado Springs welcome any allies willing to unite to do right. Let’s not let our differences stop us from working together on these critical issues.

 

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Facing facts and correcting myths about Senate Bill 91

This article by Marc Levin originally appeared in Anchorage Daily News July 16th, 2018.

Passing criminal justice reform is a bit like painting a house: Sometimes, another coat or two of paint may be needed in a few spots. This is the case with Alaska and Senate Bill 91, which has been clarified during the past two legislative sessions but remains a landmark accomplishment that put Alaska’s corrections system on a path that delivers more public safety for every dollar spent.

Although SB 91 has had its share of critics, it is important to remember why lawmakers overwhelmingly decided that Alaska’s system had lost its shine back in July 2016. First, the system was not accomplishing its mission, as 63 percent of those who left prison in Alaska in 2011 returned within three years. Also, the exploding costs associated with a prison population that had grown 27 percent from 2006 to 2016, left the state with a smaller budget for other priorities like education and health care. Without SB 91, the prison population would have surged another 27 percent. All told, the reforms in SB 91 were projected to give state residents a break of some $380 million with $211 million in direct net savings and $169 million in savings from averted prison growth.

Of course, saving money without protecting public safety is a fool’s errand. Although SB 91 has wisely been tweaked in a few ways since it was originally approved, at its core are policies that protect Alaskans. First, it requires pretrial release decisions based on risk to public safety, rather than the defendant’s wealth. After all, someone charged as a serial murderer should not be released, no matter how much money they have. And someone charged with writing a hot check without prior significant offenses will likely be assessed as low risk and should be released, even if they cannot afford to pay bail.

Second, SB 91 backed up policy changes on strengthening community supervision by investing a substantial share of money in treatment and other interventions that promote accountability and reduce re-offending. Among the key investments are $17 million on pretrial supervision officers to perform assessments and supervise defendants, $1.7 million for substance abuse treatment behind bars, $800,000 for substance abuse treatment in halfway houses, $3 million for re-entry interventions to connect returning prisoners to jobs and housing, and $3 million for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention.

It is also important to note policies that SB 91 did not change. It did not alter existing laws regarding public access to parole records. Also, SB 91 did not require that anyone be released from prison. While it did expand the eligibility for parole for certain offenders, no one is entitled to parole and the decision is made by a board composed of retired corrections and law enforcement professionals with decades of experience in public safety. Rates of granting parole have remained stable since SB 91 went into effect.

Moreover, SB 91 included provisions that make it more likely those coming out of prison will be prepared to be law-abiding citizens, such as providing photo identification to discharging inmates and the development of individualized reentry plans 90 days prior to release that better enable inmates to connect with family, employment, and housing. SB 91 also implemented swift and certain sanctions and incentives for people on supervision, which could be a curfew on one hand or a travel permit on the other. These have been found to reduce re-offending by sending an immediate and clear message that compliance is expected.

Ahough SB 91 has not been on the books long enough to do a full evaluation of the impact, there are signs that it is doing more than simply averting a fiscal tsunami. One intended goal of SB 91 was to enhance the use of alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, thereby prioritizing prison space for violent and dangerous offenders. Indeed, since the legislation went into effect, the percentage of prisoners incarcerated for a violent offense has gone up 7 percentage points.

Of course, the 120-page legislation wasn’t perfect. In the most recent session, Alaska lawmakers made a few adjustments around the edges, including sensibly allowing for out-of-state prior convictions to be considered when performing the pretrial risk assessment. Though it is the exception, not everyone comes to the nation’s most pristine state for pristine reasons and, in those cases, a checkered past may still place them on thin ice in the last frontier.

Unfortunately, some categories of crime were increasing in Alaska before SB 91 was passed, but there is no evidence that provisions of SB 91, such as allowing police discretion to issue a citation for low-level offenses instead of making an arrest (which can sometimes involve a plane ride), have exacerbated this trend.

Many factors affect crime rates, including an economy in recession, Alaska’s geography, which strains the ability of police to deter and respond to crime, as well as a higher percentage of men compared with other states. However, SB 91 is ensuring that limited law enforcement and corrections resources are being focused on those types of crime that have the most pernicious impact on victims and communities while expanding treatment and services for behaviors driven by addiction and homelessness.

Like the system in every state, Alaska’s corrections infrastructure remains a work in progress. However, given that the standard measures of recidivism involve a three-year evaluation following release from incarceration, the full impact of the programs funded through SB 91 to reduce recidivism will take additional time to assess. For now, given that lawmakers have touched up the finer points of SB 91 without painting with too broad a brush, they should await further research on the impact of the legislation before making further changes.

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Texas Senators should follow lead of state’s criminal justice successes

This article by Right on Crime signatories, former Texas State Rep. Jerry Madden and Deason Capital Services President Doug Deason, originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle July 6th, 2018.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives resoundingly voted in favor of the FIRST STEP ACT, a prison reform bill based on data and designed to give offenders a greater chance of success when they leave federal prison. The 360 House members who voted for the bill included every Republican House member from the state of Texas. It may seem surprising to some that Texas conservatives would overwhelmingly support a criminal justice reform bill. But to those who understand the “Texas Miracle” at the state level, this vote makes perfect sense.

In 2007, due to several costly and unnecessary legislative and administrative barriers, it was estimated that Texas’ already bloated prison system was going to take on an additional 17,000 prisoners over the next five years at a cost of more than $2 billion to taxpayers. Instead of following the status quo, leadership, especially then House Corrections’ Chair Jerry Madden, looked at the drivers of the prison population to see whether The Lone Star State could safely reduce its prison population.

It found that one of the main reasons Texas’ prison population continued to rise was that thousands of individuals who needed treatment and programming while in prison could not receive such services due to a lack of resources and space. In fact, more than 2,000 state prisoners were eligible for release pending a slot and/or completion of a community-based or in-prison program but could not get in. This meant thousands of mothers and fathers could not reunite with their families and get on the road to redemption due to space, not public safety. Something had to be done. Saving money is fine, but for lawmakers like Madden it wasn’t about saving money, it was about increasing public safety, giving folks a second chance at life and preserving family bonds.

Texas decided to divert a portion of the money intended to build prisons and instead invested in treatment and programming behind bars and in communities. More offenders became eligible for placements which helped reduce recidivism. In 2004, 28 percent of prisoners released were re-incarcerated within three years. Today, that number stands at 21 percent. Even though Texas’ population has ballooned over the past decade, Texas’ prison population by rate and by raw numbers has each decreased since 2006. More importantly, Texas’ crime rates are at the lowest in decades.

Instead of building new prisons, Texas has closed eight adult and eight juvenile facilities, which has allowed more dollars to go toward programs that reduce recidivism instead of billions more in new prison costs. The reforms also allowed for more individuals to go on parole and provided funding for additional treatment, specialized supervision and programming, including halfway houses. This investment in better parole supervision made Texans safer and kept more families together. In 2006, 7,647 of the 76,696 parolees were revoked back to prison for committing a new offense. By 2010, only 6,616 of the 81,220 parolees returned to prison for a new offense. Today, continued focus on parole has allowed more parolees (87,304 in 2016) to be more safely supervised in the community with better results (5,097 were re-incarcerated for a new offense).

Now, Congress has the opportunity to enact similar reforms, which Texas proved will make us safer. The FIRST STEP Act, introduced by Doug Collins from Georgia, another conservative, reform-minded state, would require each federal inmate to go through an evidence-based assessment to gauge their needs and risk level in order to match them with the proper programming to give them the tools to be successful on the outside. The bill provides further investment in recidivism-reducing programming.

Offenders will be reassessed routinely to see if their risk level or programming needs have changed. The bill provides incentives for participating in these programs, including more visitation and phone time, relocation to a facility closer to home, and earned time credit that can be used towards an increase in time in home confinement if their current assessments categorize them “minimum risk” for reoffending.

Texas State lawmakers have lead the way on conservative criminal justice reform for more than a decade. It’s time their federal counterparts in the Senate do the same and support this critical public safety increasing piece of legislation.

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Watch: John Koufos shares story of paying debt to society and working to make communities safe

Right on Crime’s National Director of Reentry Initiatives John Koufos shared his story of how he became dedicated to prison reform on Freedom to Flourish.

Koufos was a thriving New Jersey attorney that was hiding a battle with alcoholism when he made a life-altering mistake. He drove drunk, hit someone, and ran.

After being sentenced to prison, Koufos became determined to use his time as an opportunity to overcome his addiction and pay for his mistake. He came out of prison sober and ready to make good on his promise. He used his legal background to help other former offenders restore their driver’s licenses and secure identification, which increased their employability. The initiative Koufos ran was so successful, his efforts caught the attention of then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the initiative became a state-supported program.

Today Koufos directs Safe Streets and Second Chances (S3C), a project of the Right on Crime initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation with support from Koch Industries.  Koufos said he hopes S3C helps people like him who may be “on the verge of hurting another person” due to their addiction or seemingly insurmountable circumstances. “If we develop systems that intervene,” he said, “we save the next victim.”

Upon leaving prison, the hurdles to reentering society can range between basic necessities such as securing a form of identification or applying for housing to more complicated needs like mental health or addiction services. To many Americans who question the idea of helping former offenders, Koufos points out there’s an even greater cost of doing nothing. Texas learned this lesson the hard way.

The Lone Star State came to a crossroads in 2007 after spending billions on prisons. It was at that point that then Speaker Tom Craddick told then Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden to find an alternative route. The new route he found was comprised of treatment programs and reentry resources. After a massive overhaul in 2007, Texas has closed eight prisons and saved more than $2 million dollars in correction costs. “The intervention worked better than the lock em’ up mentality because ultimately you have to remember that over 95 percent of this population is coming out one day,” said Koufos, “so how do we want them coming out becomes the question.”

Congress is beginning to catch on.

The FIRST STEP Act, which overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House 360-59, incentivizes participation in rehabilitation programs with the opportunity to gain “earned time” credits. The bill returns the purpose of prison to strengthening public safety by addressing underlying issues that lead people to re-offend.  These credits allow reformed offenders to spend pre-release custody time in halfway houses or home confinement, which promotes an overall smoother reentry into society. The bill currently waits to be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

Americans should want all prisoners to leave better than when they came in. That was the case for John Koufos, and now he’s working through S3C to make the same achievement a reality for others.

Watch the full interview here.

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A rare chance for Congress to bring real reform and make our communities safer

This article by Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia Attorney General and signatory to Right on Crime’s statement of principles, originally appeared in Fox News June 20th, 2018.

The desire for safer communities and lower crime rates knows no ideology. But now, with a serious prison reform measure that would help achieve those goals gaining momentum in Congress, a few loud critics are trying to stand in the way. They’re claiming the bill is “soft on crime” and calling it a “jailbreak” bill that will result in more crime.

Such claims just don’t hold up to the evidence.

The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (FIRST STEP) would mean both safer communities and it would be a win for taxpayers, too. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives and now awaits action in the Senate.

Far from being a “jailbreak” bill, the legislation takes reforms that are already lowering crime rates in states and applies them at the federal level. Instead of a “get out of jail free card,” the bill incentivizes non-violent, lower-risk federal prisoners to go through programs that are proven to reduce recidivism by awarding them time-served credits upon successful completion.

The bill would expand the availability of programs such as vocational training, education, mental health and drug treatment. It would also implement changes that help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into their communities once they’re released, like helping them obtain identification and set up a savings account.

Opponents of the bill have been using a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report that shows more than 80 percent of former state inmates released were re-arrested within nine years to claim that these kinds of reforms don’t work. But the high re-arrest rates in the Bureau of Justice Statistics report come from individuals who didn’t have the benefit of the model programs upon which the FIRST STEP Act is based. Their baseline set of inmates come from 2005, and the reforms were first used in Texas in 2007.

Unlike the Bureau of Justice Statistics sample, Texas has dramatically lowered both its crime rates and its prison costs by lowering recidivism rates among those convicts leaving their prisons – exactly what the FIRST STEP Act will do

Because 95 percent of all inmates are serving less than life sentences, all but a handful will be rejoining their communities after completing their sentence. Under the current system, the countless barriers ex-offenders face when they return to society have been helping fuel a cycle of returning to crime that is devastating families and communities. It’s time to try something different.

At the end of the day, the most important question people should ask when evaluating rehabilitation programs is whether our communities are safer. When it comes to Texas, the answer is a resounding yes. In the mid-2000s, the Lone Star State implemented reforms similar to the FIRST STEP Act. By 2016, per capita crime rates dropped by more than one-third, better than the national average.

In addition to creating safer communities, the smart-on-crime, soft-on-taxpayer reforms in Texas saved the state more than $3 billion while also reducing the prison population so drastically the state has closed eight prisons in six years.

Despite the holdouts, the overwhelming majority of conservative voters support the principles upon which the bill is based. According to a recent Justice Action Network poll, nearly 80 percent of conservatives want reforms that focus on rehabilitation. The FIRST STEP Act does exactly that – focuses on rehabilitation – not shrinking sentences. The FIRST STEP Act is not a sentence-reducing bill, it’s a rehabilitation and re-entry bill.

With all the gridlock in Washington, this is a rare opportunity for lawmakers to accomplish something that will bring real reform and save taxpayers money while rebuilding families and keeping our communities safer. For conservatives, that’s a win we can’t afford to pass up.

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Mitch McConnell has a chance to reduce the cycle of crime

This article by Rebecca Hagelin, Right on Crime signatory and member of the Executive Committee of the Council for National Policy, originally appeared in Washington Times June 18th, 2018.

Do you think the United States Senate is sufficiently tough on crime? Are you?

I used to be a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” conservative. After all, criminals deserve what they get. Prison will teach them a lesson.

Yep, I was tough on crime. Except, it turns out I wasn’t. While I was tough on criminals, I wasn’t actually being tough on crime.

The cold hard truth is that America’s prisons are largely factories pumping out hardened, hopeless people who are unequipped to succeed on the “outside.” With no preparation for reentry to society, the vast majority of them strike again, and innocent people pay the price.

Here are the facts: 95 percent of the incarcerated one day will complete their sentences and be released into society. As Vice President Mike Pence recently noted at the first White House Summit on Prison Reform: “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.”

When we use prisons simply to warehouse and punish people, we lose the opportunity to help them become productive human beings. Upon release, far too many convicts discover that while they were locked up, society, technology and their families moved on without them. With a dearth emotional support, skills and viable income, convicts return to what they know: crime. Merely throwing criminals behind bars ensures there will be future victims.

There is one person at this moment in history who has a chance to reduce this cycle of crime: Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Here’s why: President Trump thinks it’s way past time to take the first step in federal prison reform, so he tasked Jared Kushner with making it happen. Mr. Kushner did what no one else has been able to do: assemble a bipartisan coalition to craft federal prison reform America desperately needs.

The federal First Step Act that Mr. Kushner champions on behalf of Mr. Trump recently sailed through the House in one of the largest bipartisan victories the nation has ever seen. Based on methods that succeed in transforming lives and reducing crime in red and blue states, including measures that Indiana adopted under Mr. Pence’s leadership as governor, the act will help criminals become job-ready.

The legislation now awaits Senate action, and the one person who controls the Senate calendar is Mr. McConnell.

Will Mr. McConnell thwart the president by killing the First Step Act behind closed doors? Or will he allow the Senate to debate the merits of the critical legislation in the open?

Will Mr. McConnell obliterate the bipartisan coalition that the administration worked so hard to create? Or will he work hard to secure this victory on behalf of the American people?

Nearly 30 states have enacted successful prison reform measures, so we now know what works. Yes, there is much about our federal criminal justice system that must be reformed. This First Step is just that — the essential first step. It carves out prison reform from the more controversial elements of sentencing reform — which is why it enjoys broad bipartisan support.

If Mr. McConnell and his Republican friends allow the president to take this First Step, the senators then can take the lead on the next steps. But if he kills the bill behind closed doors, federal prisoners will continue to be churned out woefully unprepared to become contributing members of society.

Georgia, Texas, Indiana, New Mexico and dozens of other states have been the incubators for successful prison reform initiatives. In Texas, for example, in just a few years after the 2005 prison reform measures were enacted, the recidivism rate dropped by 20 percent, crime was reduced by 30 percent, and taxpayers saved billions of dollars, partly because eight state prisons could be closed. It would be a social crime of epic proportions not to immediately apply the proven methods to the federal prison system too. (You can read more details about effective prison reform at RightOnCrime.com and TexasPolicy.com.)

The men and women currently in federal prisons will return to society with a better chance at contributing to it or not. There’s no need to “guess” about what works. When prisoners receive skill training, counseling or mental health treatment, recidivism is dramatically reduced.

Why not, in the name of humanity (if not self-interest), don’t we make it a priority, for instance, to treat drug addicts while they are sitting in prison? It’s ungodly and un-American to withhold effective drug rehabilitation and job training from people who one day will return as our neighbors.

Mr. Kushner has brilliantly led the bipartisan effort to bring the First Step Act to the door of the U.S. Senate. If we are to reduce crime and save billions of dollars in the process, our senators must focus on the faces of the “forgotten men and women” behind bars. Of this our senators can be sure: The future victims of prisoners released with no treatment, training or hope will never forget the faces of those who wronged them.

Right now, all eyes are on Mr. McConnell.

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Father’s Day in prison separates families — Let’s remember them

This article by Pat Nolan, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation and Right on Crime signatory, originally appeared in FOX News, June 17th, 2018.

Father’s Day celebrates the role fathers play in our lives and gives us a chance to acknowledge their important and unique influence. It’s also a time to remember those fathers who are missing from the family table.

Some of us have fathers who are no longer alive. Some have fathers who live far away and can’t be with us on Father’s Day. And some fathers are not with us because they are in prison.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for men serving prison sentences. They are paying the price for breaking the law. However, I hope you’ll take some time to think about the impact their absence has on their families, and how it impacts your neighborhood after they are released without rehabilitation.

You see, 95 percent of all prisoners will serve their sentences and then return to the community. It doesn’t make headlines when an ex-offender gets a job, supports his family and becomes a responsible member of society. Yet many of our neighbors have done this.

These people are good employees who pay their taxes and help us build better and safer communities. Think of Mark Wahlberg, Wesley Snipes and Tim Allen. They all did time in prison, and went on to become solid citizens that any of us would be proud to have as neighbors. An important factor in their success was that they remained in touch with their families.

Studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.

The research shows that when returning inmates have a supportive family they are more likely to find a job, less likely to use drugs, and less likely to be involved in criminal activities.

Studies also show that children of inmates who are able to visit with their imprisoned parents have increased cognitive skills, improved academic self-esteem, greater self-control, and change schools much less often. The improvement of the children has an amazing impact on the incarcerated parent, too, with significantly reduced recidivism of the parent after release.

Based on these research findings, you would expect that prisons would do all they can to encourage family visits and contact with inmates. But you would be wrong. That’s bad for all of us.

But those shortsighted policies will likely change soon. Legislation is moving through Congress with strong bipartisan support to improve the way federal prisons help inmates maintain contact with their families.

The House recently passed the FIRST STEP Act, which would strengthen families by:

· Placing inmates in federal prisons closer to their families (with exceptions for security concerns).

· Forming partnerships with faith-based and community volunteers to provide programs to prepare inmates for release, at little cost to the government.

· Allowing volunteers who work with inmates inside prison to continue to mentor them when they are released.

· Prohibiting the barbaric but common practice of shackling pregnant women to their beds during childbirth.

· Allowing terminally ill inmates to return home to be with their families and friends in their final days.

In addition, the legislation would allow inmates who participate in programs that prepare them to return to their communities – and who do not pose a security threat – to be placed in a halfway house or in home confinement earlier. This would put them closer to their families and enable them to look for a job; get a driver’s license; open a bank account; affiliate with a church, synagogue or other house of worship; and begin other activities to help them stay on the straight and narrow after they finish their sentences.

It only makes sense that prisoners who prove ready and willing to make the most of their second chance should be given an opportunity to get back on their feet.

This FIRST STEP Act has the strong support of President Trump. It was passed by the House 360-59, with all but two Republicans voting for it, and the overwhelming majority of Democrats in support as well.

So, after enjoying your Father’s Day, I hope you will encourage your senators to support the FIRST STEP Act. Released inmates and their families will be better neighbors because of it.

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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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