Jul 02, 2018

Criminal Justice Reform Requires Action from Lawmakers and Communities 

Post by Freedom Partners

Criminal justice reform has generated overwhelming support on both sides of the political spectrum. Decreasing crime rates is a goal shared by everyone. Discussions about how to achieve that goal are happening across the country, among a variety of stakeholders.

States are leading the charge, with Texas as the prime example. A decade ago, legislators estimated they would need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years. Instead of waiting for that projection to come true, Texas reformed its criminal justice system by expanding drug courts and mental health programs.

“From a reform standpoint, we have seen the most success with programs that treat people as individuals and not as criminals,” Koch Industries Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mark Holden said during the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado June 28. “We can reduce — and have reduced — crime by discouraging people from destructive habits that lead to recidivism.”

Because of Texas’s reforms, crime levels have dropped to 50-year lows. The state has closed four prisons and plans to close four more. In the process, Texas as saved its taxpayers $3 billion. Other states, such as South Carolina and Georgia, have begun to follow suit.

Reducing recidivism rates has become a focus at the federal level, too. The House recently passed the FIRST STEP Act, which improves prison conditions and gives inmates training opportunities to prepare them for release.

“We don’t need an act of Congress, we need an act of conscience. The moral, constitutional and fiscal cases for criminal justice reform are all strong,” Holden said. “Through a combination of legislative action and community-based efforts, we can sustain true progress.”

The call for community-based efforts is also a call for corporate-social responsibility. Businesses are beginning to take a leading role hiring ex-offenders, giving deserving people a second chance at being productive members of their communities. A recent survey conducted by The Charles Koch Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than 80 percent of human resource professionals would be open to hiring and working alongside ex-offenders.

Reducing recidivism is key. Keeping people out of prison saves taxpayers billions of dollars. But, more importantly, it keeps communities safer. From corporations, to citizens, to lawmakers — everyone has a part to play to reform the broken system.

“While nearly 700,000 Americans will be released from prison this year, close to 70 percent of them are expected to be arrested within the next five years,” Holden said. “This can—and must—change.”