In November 2014, there was a Justice Reinvestment National Summit in San Diego convened by Pew, the Justice Center of CSG and the BJS. There has been a lot of attention paid to the areas of bipartisan agreement to reducing crime and this was highlighted in joint presentation from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Van Jones, founder and president of Rebuild the Dream. As an example of bipartisan agreement, Speaker Gingrich discussed the harmful nature of harsh sentences for minor drug crimes. Gingrich credited much of his evolved thinking from Chuck Colson, the founder of the Colson Center. Speaker Gingrich called Mr. Colson a “moral force” of persuasion on the right. The sheer number of people in jail should shock the conscience of conservatives because this violates the constitutional right to pursue happiness, Gingrich said. Also, the cost of incarcerating people is a substantial drain on the financial viability of state governments and that should be enough to fire up fiscal conservatives. Speaker Gingrich said that if government does not work outside of prison how can we expect government can work inside prison? All prisons do is teach more crime, he added. On the left, Mr. Jones noted that excessive incarceration is a matter of racial justice. Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow caused a significant awakening among African-Americans, Mr. Jones said. Jones noted that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has cited Alexander’s book on the senate floor. Mr. Jones noted that the collective “we” need to do more for people who come out of prison can be productive members of society. There is plenty of room for bipartisan agreement on three things: (a) pre-trial detention, (b) sentencing reform, and (c) reentry. Mr. Jones mentioned his groups, Rebuild the Dream and #Cut50, which “seeks to reduce the U.S. prison population by half and facilitate relationships between leaders from both parties, tech entrepreneurs, and criminal justice activists so they can identify solutions to mass incarceration and effective alternative sentencing programs.”
Speaker Gingrich called on the conference attendees, 400 legislators and staff from legislative and executive branches of state government, to share with him and with Mr. Jones success stories of programs that work to reduce recidivism and to be smarter on crime. Messrs. Gingrich and Jones noted plans in DC for a summit in 2015 on how to bring the left and the right together to find smarter ways to reduce recidivism and prevent crime.
Eric J. Ellman is Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) in Washington, DC. He also served for eight months as Interim President and CEO of the Association. More