Criminal Justice Reform on the Big Stage
It’s an exciting time for criminal justice reform. In fact, at the first Republican Presidential debate, Ohio Governor John Kasich touted his record on criminal justice reform:
“[W]e are rehabbing the drug-addicted. Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addiction problems. We now treat them in prisons, release them in the community, and the recidivism rate is 10 percent. And everybody across this country knows the tsunami of drugs is threatening their very families. So we are treating them and getting them on their feet.”
In 2011, Kasich signed into law a strong criminal justice reform law that did the following:
- Diverted first time, non-violent offenders to community-based sanctions with appropriate rehabilitate programming;
- Equalized penalties for crack and powder cocaine;
- Allowed inmates to qualify for an eight-percent term reduction based on successful completion of educational, vocational and mental health programming.
- Permitted the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to petition for judicial release of inmates who have served 80 percent of their sentence, successfully completed rehabilitative programming and have no incidents of violence while incarcerated
He also addressed the Bipartisan Summit for Criminal Justice Reform, which included ALEC and other advocates, in a video message expressing his support for reform.
Kasich is not the only candidate with a strong record on criminal justice reform. Under Governor Rick Perry, Texas became a national leader on the issue. Instead of spending $2 billion building new prisons, Texas invested in drug and alcohol treatment and in improving parole and probation programs. As a result, Texas lowered its crime rate and saved a significant amount of taxpayer money. Perry is also a signatory to Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles, along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul both supported legislation to reform federal mandatory minimum sentences.
Carly Fiorina recently spoke in Iowa about the problem of mass incarceration and her daughter’s death as a result of addiction.
Finally, on the Democratic side, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has been outspoken on criminal justice reform and introduced multiple bills during his time in the Senate. In 2009, Webb wrote:
“Ex-offenders are also confronted with a lack of meaningful re-entry programs. With the high volume of people who are coming out of prisons, it is in the self-interest of every American that national leadership design programs that provide former offenders a true pathway towards a productive future.
An examination is required as to what happens inside our prisons. Our correctional officers deserve better support in dealing with violent criminals under their supervision. It is also imperative that we facilitate a safe environment for all inmates, and examine ways to better prepare them for their release back into civil society. The de-humanizing environment of jails and prisons compounds these challenges.”
As the national campaign continues, developing real solutions for criminal justice reform should remain a top concern for federal and state-level policymakers.