The United States has the largest number of incarcerated people in the Western world. While Americans are just 5% of the world’s total population, they now make up a quarter of the world’s prison population. Several states have begun to reduce the rate of incarceration through evidence-based policy changes, but the federal system lags far behind. Between 1980 and 2013, annual spending on the federal prison system rose by 595 % and more than 40% of federal prisoners end up back in the criminal justice system within just three years after release. Experts from all sides of the political spectrum agree that over-incarceration is ineffective, a waste of resources and promotes recidivism. What can be done to improve the situation?
On January 28, The Constitution Project Right-Left Criminal Justice Working Group hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on federal legislation aimed at reducing incarceration rates and broadening the opportunity for ex-offenders to safely reintegrate into society through improved reentry programs and reductions of collateral consequences. The speakers at the standing-room only event represented a “who’s who” of criminal justice reform advocates from the right and the left, including: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.); Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio); Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.); Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.); Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, Inc.; former Obama administration official Van Jones, president of Dream Corps Unlimited and CNN contributor; Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison; and Pat Nolan, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union (ACU) Foundation and former GOP leader in the California State Assembly. Held in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room, the panel was moderated by TCP board member David Keene, opinion page editor at The Washington Times and former head of the NRA and ACU.
The Right-Left Criminal Justice Working Group is made up of thought leaders from both sides of the aisle who are united in seeking a common goal: advancing meaningful criminal justice reform. Drawing on deep knowledge from its diverse and experienced membership, the group focuses on all aspects of our criminal justice system, including sentencing, prisons, prisoner reentry, mental health and forensics.