Texas’ success with criminal justice reform received several hat tips throughout Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 16th Annual Policy Orientation, February 7th – 9th. Right on Crime Signatory and former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint kicked off the event with the first keynote address. Surprise remarks came from another signatory, Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation, as well as former U.S. Representative Allen West. “Texas is the beacon of liberty” and the leader in criminal justice reform, said West.

The three-day conference pulled legislators and policy wonks from all across the great state to hear from issue experts on the most pressing topics. Right on Crime was proud to host three panels, cultivating conversations on policing, overcriminalization, and the cost effectiveness of various criminal justice policies. Here are the three main takeaways from the panels:

21st Century Policing in Texas – watch

“We are putting a lot of people in jail that don’t serve the purpose of furthering public safety.” Tweet That!

Retired Sheriff, Dr. Currie Myers, opened up the policing panel by addressing the barriers to community-police relations. Dr. Myers voiced concern that public safety has taken a backseat to enforcing regulatory offenses. In turn, a distrust of officers seems to be brewing within communities. Former police officer, Rep. Phil King, said that trust could be better garnered by returning to community policing. “The concept of community policing is the idea that law enforcement must build relationships with community leaders,” said King. When relationships exist before emergencies occur, solutions can be accelerated. In this way, strong community-policy relationships help build safer communities.

There Ought To Be A Law: Overcriminalization – watch

“Because there are so many crimes without criminal intent protection, people often times don’t realize they’re committing a crime.” Tweet That!

In demonstrating the need to simplify Texas’ criminal codes, Rep. Matt Rinaldi held up a long list of state regulations. “There should be very few crimes, and they should be very specific,” said Rinaldi. Over the years, the growing list of offenses has landed unsuspecting Americans with tickets, fines, and even jail time. Because a condensed list of laws and regulations is difficult to come by, more and more citizens are being ensnared by what’s widely referred to as ‘overcriminalization’. Shannon Edmonds of Texas District & County Attorneys Association said the burdensome list hurts more than just the alleged bad actors. “When prosecutors are bogged down with administrative crimes, crime victims suffer.”

How Texas Can Continue Lowering Crime & Costs – watch

“We’re wasting millions of dollars jailing mentally ill, homeless people.” Tweet that!

“When Texas passed criminal justice reform, the common ground was around human potential,” said Doug Smith of Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Texas has proven it’s possible to lower crime and costs at the same time ever since it passed a wave of criminal justice reform legislation in 2007. However, looking at the evidence, there’s more progress to be made in diverting low level offenders who may be in need of treatment more than costly jail time. “We’re wasting millions of dollars jailing mentally ill, homeless people,” added District Attorney Kim Ogg. On the backend, there’s more to be done to better prepare former inmates to reenter society. That’s why Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation partnered with Koch Industries in creating a national reentry initiative, Safe Streets & Second Chances. Jenny Kim of Koch Industries says the goal of the initiative is to improve public safety by better preparing inmates to reenter society, breaking the cycle of recidivism. Without initiatives like this, we’re left asking ourselves questions as the one Kim posed, “What kind of potential are we missing?”

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Thank you to our speakers and moderators!
Policing speakers: Rep. Phil King, Rep. John Wray, Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute, and Dr. Currie Myers, Visiting Senior Fellow with Right on Crime. Moderator: Randy Petersen, Senior Researcher at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Overcriminaliztion speakers: Rep. Matt Rinaldi, Ronnie Lampard of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel, Arif Panju of Institute for Justice, Shannon Edmonds with the Texas District & County Attorneys Association Moderator: Marc Levin, Vice President of Criminal Justice Policy at Texas Public Policy Foundation. Lowering Crime & Costs Speakers: Rep. Joe Moody, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Jenny Kim with Koch Companies Public Sector, Doug Smith of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Moderator: Adam Gelb, Pew Charitable Trust.