The following post is by Nicole Truhe, America Forward's Director of Government Affairs.
“Our Criminal Justice System Isn't as Smart as It Should Be.”
-President Barack Obama, July 14, 2015
Last week much attention was given to our nation’s criminal justice system and the faults associated with it. President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders as part of his Administration’s efforts to ‘right size’ the sentences associated with such crimes. On Tuesday, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and Coalition for Public Safety hosted a bi-partisan Congressional discussion with Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the need for and prospect of criminal justice reform in Congress. At the end of the week, after issuing his commutations, President Obama traveled to Oklahoma and became the first sitting President to visit a federal prison. While there, he had the opportunity to talk with inmates about their backgrounds and experiences in prison.
One particularly powerful articulation of the current crisis we are facing in our criminal justice system came from the President during his visit to the federal prison, but was echoed by the Senators during their discussion. The President noted when reflecting on the discussion we had with the inmates, their backgrounds and current situation, “the difference is that they [prisoners] did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those [their] mistakes … That’s what strikes me, there but for the grace of God.”
It is clear from the call to action from our Founder and CEO Vanessa Kirsch in May, that New Profit and America Forward see a moment for unprecedented opportunity to change the status quo in our criminal justice system. And that reform of this system is one of the most significant ways we can make a real difference in the lives of children, families, and communities across the country. The events of the past week clearly illustrates that our historic and current policies for addressing crime, criminal activity, and those who find themselves interacting with the criminal justice system aren’t working and need to be changed and that there is agreement on both sides of the aisle to do so.
Last Tuesday, when asked how close the Senate was to advancing legislation that would significantly impact reentry opportunities for those currently in jails and prisons, Senator Cornyn confidently stated that, “we are remarkably close.” The discussion happening in Washington, which has really been fueled by the experiences of red and blue states alike, is not if reform can happen, but when. At America Forward, we support federal policy change that promotes innovation and focuses on evidence and outcomes to drive federal dollars to what works, not just what we have always done. We are excited for the moment that we find ourselves in and for the opportunity to change policy and funding decisions so that the support structures, second chances, and resources needed are available to every one.