ALEC Continues Criminal Justice Reform Efforts
The 1990s saw Americans broadly favor tough on crime policies. Both political parties strongly supported such measures, including then-President Bill Clinton and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. However, Gingrich has supported criminal justice reform for over a year and stated that reducing the prison population by focusing on individuals who were not violent offenders is an essential component of that reform effort.
For over half a decade, ALEC has spearheaded criminal justice reform efforts. Under the leadership of former Texas State Representative Jerry Madden, ALEC members began proposing model policies on criminal justice reform efforts that were ultimately adopted as ALEC model policies. Madden had been instrumental in getting justice reforms passed in Texas during his time in the legislature. As a result of his leadership, Madden was recognized by ALEC as “Legislator of the Year” in 2011.
Many of these reforms adopted in Texas served as the springboard for ALEC model policies. These reforms include alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, asset forfeiture reform, and juvenile justice reform. This year alone, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, and Oklahoma all passed legislation substantially similar to ALEC model policies that address these issues. In fact, Oklahoma State Representative Lisa Billy, the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force Public Sector Chair, supported Oklahoma’s justice reform efforts this year.
States that have adopted these reform efforts have seen a drop in the overall crime rate. In fact, Texas lowered its prison population by 11% from 2009-2014 and simultaneously saw a 24% reduction in crime. Additionally, under former Governor Rick Perry and Madden’s leadership, Texas shut down three prisons and saved taxpayers $2 billion. As demonstrated by Texas, alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs or drug-treatment programs, for non-violent and low-risk offenders does not equate to being soft on crime. Rather, states that have adopted these criminal justice reforms that both lower the crime rate and reduce incarceration rates are being smart on crime. These reforms require nonviolent individuals who do not pose a danger to society to be held accountable for their actions, but allow them the opportunity to become productive members of society via rehabilitative measures.
ALEC model policies on criminal justice reform will continue to drive the reform efforts in the states. The last few years have been very successful for criminal justice reform and the successes of states that have reduced the crime rate and saved taxpayer dollars should inspire other states to undertake reform efforts. Additionally, just as there was bipartisan consensus in the 1990s regarding tough on crime policies, there is currently bipartisan agreement that criminal justice reforms are necessary, which has given Americans a tremendous opportunity to see smart on crime reforms. Finally, a criminal justice system that is more fair and just better instills the principles of dignity and trust in all Americans. ALEC will stand by those principles and hopes that states will do the same.