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Corrections Should Focus on Fair Sentencing and Rehabilitation to Make Communities Safer

Today the Coalition for Public Safety kicked off its Fair Sentencing and Fair Chances National Tour with a panel of distinguished advocates for criminal justice reform efforts. The diverse group of organizations included in the panel ranged from participants associated with the ACLU to Americans for Tax Reform. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) headed the discussion by presenting their personal interests and efforts in achieving meaningful reform with the nation’s justice system.

The Coalition for Public Safety hopes to bring awareness to sentencing and incarceration issues by launching the Fair Sentencing and Fair Chances National Campaign. Its stated goal for the campaign is to support “fair sentencing, fair and appropriate use of incarceration and fair opportunities when returning home” which results in reduced expenditure related to housing prisoners and curbing recidivism. Additionally, the Campaign hopes to promote discourse regarding over-criminalization and over-incarceration and their disproportionate effects on persons from low-income and minority communities.

FreedomWork’s very own Jason Pye sat on the panel alongside many representatives which included: Jesselyn McCurdy with American Civil Liberties Union; Grover Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform; Todd Cox of the Center for American Progress; Tim Head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Joe Luppino-Esposito of the Right on Crime.

As Congressman Scott highlighted, his push for the SAFE Justice Act includes true bipartisanship and not a disingenuous effort, which was reflected in the launch event’s panel since advocates of criminal justice reform from either side of the aisle are truly invested in substantial reform without sacrificing or compromising ideologies when determining solutions.

Tim Head brought focus on rehabilitation following periods of incarceration by sharing a personal story about a young man who made extreme efforts despite not having a cell phone or vehicle to get back home in time for a meeting with his parole officer over a long holiday weekend. By missing the meeting, he was immediately thrown back into the criminal system, highlighting the severe flaws with regard to rehabilitation.

Along the same lines, Jesselyn McCurdy and Todd Cox reinforced rehabilitation issues by noting background check requirements as obstacles to employment post-incarceration. Mr. Cox presented CAP’s push for the Clean Slate Policy in Pennsylvania which allows “minor nonviolent cases to be automatically sealed after time has passed without subsequent conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor.”

The idea behind this policy would assist individuals with a criminal record to attain a truer form of rehabilitation by integrating back into society and the workforce. A more just and fluid transition back would consequently assist individuals and their families economically and help remove the burden on the justice system and taxpayers.

Pye spoke about successful state-level reforms, specifically pointing to Texas and Georgia, as a blueprint for other states to follow. "In 2007, faced with $523 million in immediate prison construction costs to house Texas' growing prison population and $2 billion in additional costs by 2012, state lawmakers decided to take a new and innovate approach," he explained. "They appropriated $241 million that would have been used to expand or build new prisons to implement programs designed to reduce recidivism." The savings from the reforms have exceeded $3 billion. Further emphasizing the success, recidivism dropped by nearly 10 points and crime is at its lowest rate since 1968.

FreedomWorks fully supports the Coalition for Public Safety’s mission with their Fair Sentencing and Fair Chances National Tour. The tour will visit Chicago, Illinois; Austin, Texas; and Tallahassee, Florida.