Criminal Justice Reform
Members of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force are dedicated to developing and supporting policies that improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections spending for states. Many states are taking a hard look at their criminal justice systems and have determined that the policies in place are just not fiscally sustainable.
Safe communities are the end-goal of criminal justice policy. The debate lies in how best to reach that goal. The typical timeline pinpoints the 80’s as the “tough on crime” era where legislation, such as California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law (mandatory sentencing of repeat offenders), locked up offenders that created packed prisons and unsustainable costs. But as long as there are criminals, there will be “tough on crime” policy. The shift in the debate is attributed to defining what is “tough.” A body of research has revealed what works and how to slow the revolving prison door. “Tough on crime” now means holding individuals to a higher standard, holding programs accountable, funding the programs that can produce results, and asking more of offenders. This research has spurred a number of states to take a look at their criminal justice systems, diagnose problems and adopt new strategies.
One of the trailblazers of this reform is Texas. In 2005, under the leadership of Representative Jerry Madden, the “tough-on-crime” state acted the way the state is known to act: big. After taking a hard look at the numbers, the state built a bipartisan coalition that increased funding for specialized courts, introduced progressive sanctions for probation/parole officers, and modified the caseloads of probation officers. In addition, the state looked at parole and how they could identify high-risk offenders earlier. With a bipartisan coalition that included all stakeholders, they compared costs, and the consequences of failing to act, and enacted policy reform with the end result of state savings of up to $2 billion and the lowest crime rate since 1973. Texas tipped the scales and prevented rapid prison growth by allocating resources to the right programs.
The Texas solution to corrections problems has helped to create a wave of interest across legislatures in the U.S. In 2011 alone, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio enacted comprehensive legislation.
As the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Director of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, myself and my colleagues are proud to support states that are spearheading criminal justice reform to devote resources to high-risk, violent offenders and diverting low-risk, non-violent offenders to treatment and rehabilitation. With the evidence to support reforms, model policy solutions and state successes as examples, many states are primed for success as they dare to ask their corrections systems: what is the cost and how can we make it better?