This panel focused on the messaging and issue choices necessary for achieving meaningful criminal justice reform in 2016. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, began by explaining that though conservatives have supported “tough on crime” policies in the past, they are now realizing that skepticism of government’s ability to solve problems should extend to the criminal justice system. He noted that the conservative approach to criminal justice is to reduce the amount and severity of crime in America. But, he said, we need to understand how to do that without destroying families, without taking parents out of homes.
Later in the conversation, he addressed issues associated with civil asset forfeiture, arguing that effective criminal justice reform should remove incentives to abuse the system. We would be doing law enforcement a favor by getting them “out of the business of taking people’s stuff through civil asset forfeiture,” he said.
Both Norquist and Stephanie Cutter, partner at Precision Strategies and former Obama for America deputy campaign manager, noted the bipartisanship that has been driving progress on this issue. Cutter remarked that there has been much shared responsibility between conservatives and liberals, and that people are not placing blame on one side or the other. This, she said, is making criminal justice reform a potent issue, and one on which we can make true progress.
Stand Together Trust senior research fellow Vikrant Reddy moderated the panel and asked the panelists to shed some light on how the relationship between law enforcement and the black community can be improved. Norquist noted that ensuring that police are not simply collecting fines would go a long way in repairing those relationships. Cutter argued that increasing trust between police and the black community would require meaningful engagement.
Throughout the conversation, Norquist and Cutter both commented on the prominence of criminal justice reform efforts on the national stage and the potential for meaningful reform in the near future.