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Criminal Justice Reform: ‘The Idea Whose Time Has Come’

Last week, the Charles Koch Institute hosted a three-day long criminal justice reform summit in New Orleans, titled “Advancing Justice: An Agenda for Human Dignity and Public Safety.” Comprising over 500 attendees, panelists, and stakeholders, its purpose was to investigate the myriad challenges within the various criminal justice systems nationwide–from sentencing reform and civil asset forfeiture, to the effects of incarceration on families and communities.

Among those speakers who provided opening statements was Texas Public Policy Foundation president Brooke Rollins, whose remarks focused on the paradigm shift that occurred among conservatives in Texas in the last fifteen years on the subject–a shift that centered on the realization that there was a better way to administer the state’s justice system. In describing a conversation with a board member towards the beginning of her tenure, Rollins recalled one remark in particular:

“All our side talks about is building more prisons, and throwing people in those prisons. There’s no discussion of the cost to community, and the cost to family, and the cost to the taxpayer, and whether we’re actually making any progress in reducing crime.”

Shortly thereafter, stakeholders across the state–from policy think tanks, to conservative and liberal members of the Texas Legislature–began making the case for various reforms, advocating changes in sentencing policy, creation of specialty courts, use of swift and certain sanctions for parole and probation violations, and others.

As a result, Rollins explained, Texas has closed three adult prisons, forestalled construction of two more, and closed seven juvenile facilities–all while reducing its crime rate by about 24%, the lowest rate since 1968.

Rollins suggests that such successes ought to feed into other states and countries as they address their own justice systems, and concludes with a quote from Victor Hugo, who said that “there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Video of the opening ceremony can be found below, with Rollins remarks beginning at 26:12.

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