This past weekend, Derek Cohen, Deputy Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, was a speaker on a panel at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, entitled “Incarceration Nation.” The topic of the panel was America’s incarceration problem and solutions to reduce our prison populations.

Cohen directed his discussion on some of the successes regarding over-incarceration at the state and federal level and what can be done in the future to lower the massive prison population the US has accumulated–which accounts for roughly 25% of the world’s inmates. In Texas, for example, Cohen mentioned legislation that recently passed which raises property theft thresholds in line with present-day inflation rates in order to prevent harsh penalties for minor theft charges not in line with the statute’s initial intent

Cohen also applauded the efforts of Alabama which recently passed a major reform initiative specifically targeted at reducing prison populations. The “Justice Reinvestment Act,” Cohen explained, will allow for lower-level offenders to be placed in community-based programs rather than incarceration, and gives courts discretion to allow offenders to have carve-outs in their sentences for community supervision. This will greatly reduce incarceration and recidivism rates in a state that has some of the worst overcrowding issues in the country.

Cohen further remarked how the states have lead the way on criminal justice reform. However, Cohen is optimistic that recently filed bi-partisan bills, such as the S.A.F.E. Justice Act, will make their way onto the President’s desk and bring the federal criminal justice system in line with many of the accomplishments of the states. The S.A.F.E. Justice Act, Cohen explained, reforms sentencing laws to reduce prison populations and expands pathways to community corrections for the federal systems.

Other individuals on the panel included Vanessa Spinazola from the ACLU of Nevada, and Jordan Richardson, who is a policy associate from Generation Opportunity. Spinazola went into detail on some of the efforts Nevada has attempted to undertake to combat the over-incarceration issue in the Battle Born State, including their work to prevent dozens of laws from being enacted that carried criminal penalties. Richardson provided a great overview of mass incarceration on the federal and state level, which gave the audience perspective on how severe the problem is.

FreedomFest is a yearly event that brings together visionaries from around the world to celebrate “great books, great ideas, and great thinkers in an open-minded society.” For more information on FreedomFest, visit