Today, President Trump meets with Governors to discuss prison reform, sentencing reform, and how smart policies that promote fairness, rehabilitation, and opportunities for men and women coming home from prison.
This is another huge signal of progress. Advocates like myself have been fighting to bring relief to the ~200,000 men and women in our federal prison system through federal legislation called the FIRST STEP Act. The President recently reinforced his endorsement of the legislation and showed openness to also include Sentencing Reform.
It is urgent that leaders in the Senate come together and strike a compromise that includes both prison reform and sentencing reform. Then, Majority Leader McConnell should bring the proposal to the floor for a vote as soon as possible.
When my then-husband was sentenced to prison for a drug-related crime as I held my 2-month old daughter in my arms, I learned just how broken our criminal justice system is. I am a lifelong Democrat but I will work with anybody and against anybody to continue unwinding the system of mass incarceration that has destroyed far too many families.
Today’s meeting is another strong signal to elected leaders from both parties all across the country must work together to overhaul our criminal justice system.
Below is an overview of some of the progress that the Governors President Trump is meeting with today have led in their states to reduce their prison populations and promote fairness in sentencing and reentry.
Governor John Bel Edwards, LOUISIANA
Governor John Bel Edwards made a promise on the campaign trail: he would reduce the number of people in Louisiana’s prisons. Last year, he signed a package of 10 bills into law that would impact the state's criminal justice system. When those bills passed, Governor Edwards said "Republicans, Democrats, and Independents came together in Louisiana to rethink the criminal justice system. We knew what we were doing just wasn’t working. By following the lead of other southern, conservative states, we passed a package of 10 bills that will improve public safety and reduce recidivism...I'm signing these bills because a broken system justice system leads to more crime not less."
The new laws are anticipated to save the state more than $262 million over the next decade, and mandate 70 percent of the savings be reinvested into programs to reduce recidivism and support victims.
Governor Nathan Deal, GEORGIA
In 2011, Georgia’s prisons were at 107% capacity. The state’s incarceration rate was the fourth-highest in the nation - and experts expected it to continue rising. But because of reforms led by Governor Nathan Deal, including sentencing and prison reforms, the number of people in prison instead declined - and so did Georgia's recidivism rate, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Over the past 8 years, the number of people entering Georgia’s prison system dropped by 18.6 and the number of African-American men dropped by 30%. Over those 8 years, the state also saw a 24% drop in crime.
Governor Nathan Deal, who is approaching the end of his term, will be remembered for the bold reforms he led to fix his state's broken criminal justice system. In 2015, he spoke at #cut50’s Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. He said, "People told me that this issue isn't something a Republican Governor ought to be fighting for. I told them, ‘but it's the right thing to do.’" https://youtu.be/uGa45JNw7kU?t=3m33s
Governor Matt Bevin, KENTUCKY
Governor Bevin has been a strong conservative leader for criminal justice reforms in his state. This year, Kentucky became the first state to pass a law that would transform the way the prison system treats women who are incarcerated - Kentucky’s Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
Facing a growing prison population in the midst of a drug addiction and overdose epidemic, admissions to Kentucky’s prison have grown by 32% since 2012, and the population is projected to grow 19 percent over the next decade. Governor Bevin created a bipartisan criminal justice council “to seek a smarter, compassionate, evidence-based approach.”
Bevin led Juvenile Justice reforms that resulted in the number of young people incarcerated decreasing by 43% over the last two years. And he has championed “Clean Slate” and expungement legislation.
Most of all, Governor Bevin has visited with people incarcerated in his state’s prisons. He said, “I’ve had the opportunity to go into prisons and meet our inmates. In those meetings, several things became abundantly clear: A bloated, overreaching criminal justice system can rob people of hope. People robbed of hope are robbed of their basic human dignity; people robbed of their dignity are ultimately robbed of their humanity; and people robbed of their humanity make inhumane decisions involving themselves, their families and their communities. We need a justice system that works to restore human dignity and respect — dignity for one’s self, dignity for victims, and respect for the rule of law and those who enforce it. To solve our crisis, we must promote policies that offer a true chance for redemption. Otherwise, what is the incentive to turn away from crime?”
Governor Phil Bryant, MISSISSIPPI:
In 2018, Mississippi bolstered the success of its 2014 criminal justice reforms by enacting a new law that will retroactively expand parole eligibility for certain nonviolent offenders, promote successful re-entry into their communities for those who were incarcerated, and ensure that people are not locked up because they are too poor to pay fines.
Leaders first began scrutinizing state correctional practices in 2013, when Mississippi had one of the nation’s fastest-growing prison populations. Seeking to improve public safety outcomes, prioritize the use of prison for people committing serious offenses, strengthen supervision, and reduce recidivism, officials launched a thorough, data-driven examination of state policies and practices as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership among Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other organizations. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts
Governor Doug Burgum, NORTH DAKOTA
After increasing 32 percent between 2005 and 2015, North Dakota’s prison population was projected to grow by 36 percent by 2022 if no action was taken.
North Dakota’s bipartisan “Incarceration Issues Committee” began working with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in January 2016 to use a data-driven justice reinvestment approach to address the state’s prison population growth and rising system costs.
In 2017, Governor Burgum signed both Prison and Sentencing Reforms that together formed a comprehensive plan to provide support for people suffering from behavioral health issues and substance abuse while substantially reducing corrections costs. The Legislation reduced the drug possession charge levels for first-time offenders and established probation as the presumptive sentence for low-level, nonviolent felonies. It also authorizes a pretrial services pilot project to free up limited and costly jail space and authorizes the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) to award good time on credit for jail time which was previously prohibited.
#cut50 works to cut crime and incarceration in all 50 states by translating local needs into smart safety solutions. The organization brings together unlikely allies—formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, community members, crime survivors, local elected officials, and law enforcement--to keep communities safe and families together.