On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), unveiled improvements to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, S. 2123. The measure is designed to reform federal sentencing policies, bring substantive rehabilitative programming to federal prisons, address the growing costs of incarceration, and enhance public safety by focusing on reducing prisoners’ risk of recidivism.
Criminal justice reform is not a new concept. The movement has been growing since 2007, when Texas – a state known for being tough on crime – decided to launch its justice reinvestment initiative. Rather than spending $523 million on immediate prison construction needs, lawmakers, instead, appropriated $241 million on the first in a string of criminal justice reforms. The reforms were overwhelmingly successful, as prison populations declined and recidivism dropped. Texas now has its lowest crime rate since 1968 and saved taxpayers $3 billion.
More than 30 states have followed what is known as the “Texas model.” These states include Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Under the leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia, too, has become a leader in the criminal justice reform effort. The Deal administration has pursued a number of criminal justice reforms, including drug courts, a “safety valve” exception to the state’s mandatory minimum sentences, and reentry initiatives designed to help offenders become productive, taxpaying citizens.
Last week, Governor Deal signed his fifth criminal justice reform bill into law. Deal noted that the process isn’t “one and done”, and said he fully expects to have more reforms to become law during his tenure.
Congress, though, has failed to keep up with the states. Thankfully, that could change this year.