Think tank leaders and reform advocates from all over the country traveled to Austin on June 7 to gain insight on major issues affecting the criminal justice movement at the Right on Crime Criminal Justice Reform Summit. To better explain how the movement arrived where it is today, the summit was kicked off by a panel discussion on the history of reform – which former Representative Jerry Madden pointed out – started in Texas. As a Republican representative in a traditionally tough-on-crime state, Madden was taken aback when then House Speaker, Tom Craddick, tasked him with passing legislation that cut prison spending. Craddick’s outlook was that the state was paying top dollar for a prison system that produced less than acceptable results. After analyzing all the available data and getting more legislators on board with transforming the state’s prison policy into a more fiscally conservative approach, legislation supporting prison alternatives and sentencing reform were passed into law. As a result, Texas has not needed to build a new prison since 2005. “That’s hard evidence that conservative prison reform works,” Madden said.
The summit continued with a second panel showcasing progress made in priority states. Sharing their stories from the frontlines, Right on Crime state directors laid out successes and roadblocks from their respective legislative sessions. One of the biggest successes for the movement this year was found in Louisiana where a package of ten criminal justice reform bills passed into law. Louisiana State Director, Elaine Ellerbe, thanked partner groups like Pelican Institute and Smart on Crime Louisiana for helping garner support for the measures. Uniquely, Arizona passed reporting requirements for civil asset forfeiture while Tennessee saw a big win for expungement reform.
Out of all of the voices heard at the summit, there’s one in particular that knows this more than anyone else: Right on Crime signatory, Doug Deason. With TPPF President Brook Rollins, Deason spoke to our attendees over a catered lunch from Franklin BBQ, about his personal encounter with the justice system and how it inspired his decision to work in the field. When Deason was a teenager, he came close to receiving a harsh punishment for a juvenile crime that would have forever changed the course of his life. Because of that Deason is an advocate for conservative criminal justice reform, and it’s voices like his that are effectively moving legislators to pass reforms. As Right on Crime policy analyst Joe Luppino-Esposito pointed out during our closing panel, the growth should be credited to our smart communication tactics— “We’re finding success because we’re presenting the facts, and we’re presenting it as a moral issue.”
Today more than ever, Right on Crime is seeing states following the Texas model for smart on crime criminal justice systems. Our movement is well positioned to continue to build upon the success of conservative criminal justice reform in the states, expanding to new states, and inspiring substantial reform at the federal level.