Despite media headlines to the contrary, many conservative prosecutors have been long driving meaningful reforms in their own backyards. A CPAC panel of nationally renowned conservative prosecutors highlighted this point, as the described the “passion projects” they have created in their communities stemming from the desire to improve public safety and to responsibly lower incarceration rates. Right on Crime’s Florida State Director moderated the panel of criminal justice luminaries, including Former US Attorney, Director of Prosecutorial Innovation at Right on Crime, and ACU Senior Fellow Brett Tolman; San Joaquin County, California, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar; Pinal County, Arizona, District Attorney Kent Volkmar; and Utah County District Attorney David Leavitt. A conservative view of criminal justice reform is not a blanket “lock them up,” in fact, but an evidence-based approach to criminal sanctions and an investment in second chances focused on reducing recidivism.
“You will not fix the criminal justice system unless conservatives finally start to work on it,” said Tolman. The idea that criminal justice reform drives a liberal agenda is simply untrue. For years, Tolman begged the Obama Administration to move on sentencing reform, but first steps were not taken until former President Trump championed the First Step Act, which passed through a Republican Congress with overwhelming support.
Utah County District Attorney David Leavitt described his community protection initiative that includes a redesigned screening process for filing criminal charges. This innovative pretrial diversion program is a screening process that focuses the direction of a case from the start without jailing nonviolent offenders. “We are working to put the violent and dangerous in jail. We look for solutions and ways to work with people that are designed to not make criminals out of nonviolent personal use drug offenders, providing them an opportunity to restart their lives.” Leavitt’s community protection initiative has resulted in 600 fewer felons because of the screening process that was implemented.
Community safety is of the utmost importance when considering criminal justice reforms. Pinal County District Attorney Kent Volkmar highlighted two key elements required to rehabilitate an individual: change their values and teach a skillset. Diversion has been an avenue DA Volkmar has used in Arizona to drive reform. By allowing certain offenders to complete a diversion program successfully, the district attorney’s office will dismiss the charges. This clean slate not only allows the offender to pay their debt to society in a meaningful and productive way, but also provides the ability to gain employment opportunities.
Across the country, conservative prosecutors have found countless ways to maximize public safety while reducing the prison population and keeping families together. It was an honor and privilege to lead a discussion with these nationally renowned prosecutors and to hear their ideas for future improvements to make our justice system better than how they found it.
Special thank you to CPAC for hosting this informative panel!