Recently, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) gave a much-needed boost to efforts in the House of Representatives to pass criminal justice reform, telling NPR that he expected to have a package ready for votes in September. Once a subscriber to the purportedly “tough on crime” policies which characterized Congress’s approach to justice, Ryan changed his tone in recent years as he toured impoverished communities and learned of the stigma which comes with a criminal record.
The House Judiciary Committee has been working on this effort since last summer, when Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced the formation of an initiative to study the issue and produce legislation. Since the fall, the committee has approved nearly a dozen pieces of legislation, including the Sentencing Reform Act, the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, and the Criminal Code Improvement Act. These bills are the centerpieces of the effort in the lower chamber.
The House Freedom Caucus, an important and influential part of the House Republican Conference, has a tremendous opportunity to play an important role in the passage of criminal justice reform at the federal level. These bills are in the spirit of what has been accomplished in Republican states, not only with an important emphasis on preserving public safety in mind, but also fulfilling the view of our country being a land of second chances, bringing families together, and reducing prison costs.
Recent history has shown that criminal justice reform is a conservative issue. In 2007, facing an immediate need of $523 million for rising prison costs and $2 billion in additional anticipated costs by 2012, Texas passed a groundbreaking justice reinvestment initiative.
With an initial appropriation of $241 million, lawmakers sought to change the culture of corrections and reduce the influx of offenders in state prisons by focusing on accountability and treatment through drug courts rather than incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenders. For those who did wind up inside prison walls, rehabilitative programs were implemented to provide offenders with job training and education to lower their risk of recidivism.
The Lone Star State’s effort has been a resounding success. Recidivism declined, crime rates continued on a downward trend, and the state actually closed prisons. In fact, Texas’ crime rate is at its lowest point since 1968. If those who oppose criminal justice reform were right, crime rates would have risen. Instead, crime fell by 24 percent. Texas also saved $2 billion.
Read full article here.