Former Texas Governor Rick Perry Addressed ALEC Annual Meeting, Called for Criminal Justice Reform
On July 27, at the ALEC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, former Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke passionately about criminal justice reform. The event, sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, served as a reminder of how conservative leaders have led the push for criminal justice reform. In fact, Perry called criminal justice reform, “[O]ne of the most important things we did in Texas while I was governor.”
Specifically, he spoke of how he signed reforms to sentencing laws, so that non-violent offenders are not subject to lengthy prison sentences. In addition, he also spoke of juvenile justice reform. “As Texans got smarter about…crime prevention, we came to appreciate the importance of keeping promising young people out of jail,” Perry said. He further noted that the number of juveniles incarcerated in Texas has dropped substantially due to the criminal justice reforms.
ALEC has model policies on each of the issues mentioned by Governor Perry. For example, the ALEC model Justice Safety Valve Act gives judges the discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent, low-risk offenders. This year, Oklahoma passed a mandatory minimum sentencing reform law, along with a series of additional criminal justice reforms, which reduces mandatory minimum sentences for felony drug possession convictions. The Justice Safety Valve Act does not apply to violent or repeat offenders. Hence, those offenders would not be eligible for a departure from a mandatory minimum sentence.
ALEC also has models for juvenile justice reform. The Resolution to Treat 17-Year-Olds As Juveniles, for instance, states that 17-Year-Olds should be presumptively treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system. This year, Louisiana became the 42nd state to presumptively treat 17-Year-Olds as juveniles. Importantly, neither the ALEC resolution nor the Louisiana law prevents a district attorney from treating 17-year-olds charged with certain crimes as adults. For example, if a 17-year-old committed a violent crime such as a homicide, rape or robbery, they could still be charged as an adult and sent to an adult prison upon conviction. In essence, by providing the option to treat violent and dangerous offenders as adults, the law does not compromise public safety. However, for lesser crimes such as felony theft or simple drug possession, convicted 17-year-olds would be sent to a juvenile facility rather than an adult prison. Research has found that 17-year-olds are less likely to recidivate when placed in the juvenile system and lower recidivism rates lead to lower prison populations.
Perry’s speech was a reminder of the need for state level criminal justice reform across the nation. Numerous states have passed various reforms this year and the former Texas Governor’s remarks validated these reforms. ALEC looks forward to seeing future states address criminal justice reform.