Criminal Justice

Advancing Justice 2015: Afternoon Sessions

November 5, 2015

This afternoon’s sessions began with a viewing of a short film about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, which set the tone for a major theme of the afternoon’s discussions: how different communities can foster progress for criminal justice and policing reform.

During the first plenary panel of the afternoon, “An Opportunity Agenda: The Business Community’s Role in Re-Entry,” business leaders discussed how they can reduce recidivism by helping more restored citizens find employment.

Mark Holden, Koch Companies Public Sector senior vice president and general counsel, explained that Koch Industries decided to “ban the box” in order to consider all talent. Kurt E. Moore, a restored citizen and owner of K-Love’s Auto Detailing, offered a different perspective, discussing how businesses can also offer character-building and professional development.

Like the business community, the faith community has worked towards criminal justice reform. However, during the afternoon break-out “Justice and Morality: A Faith-Based Approach to Reform,” panelists discussed how the faith community could better spur progress. In particular, Allison DeFoor, canon to the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, was adamant that the faith community could do more to serve men and women behind bars.

DeFoor argued that involvement in criminal justice reform should be expected of the faith community, given the clear moral implications of the justice system, but in his opinion they are far behind in advocating for reform.

During the same discussion, Bert Smith, CEO of Prison Entrepreneurship Program, praised faith leaders and volunteers for engaging with people in prison: “I really believe that there is immense transformative power in the love that a volunteer brings to the prisoner when he or she personally engages.” Yet Smith also agreed with other panelists that going beyond volunteerism and advocating for reform was necessary for the faith community.

In addition to the discussion of how different groups could aid reform, state and local solutions were a focus of today’s afternoon panels. During “Reform in the States: A Survey of Successes,” panelists highlighted state reforms that could serve as models for the rest of the country.

Jim Seward, general counsel to the governor of South Dakota, discussed how the state’s 2012 reforms have led to a declining prison population. This is especially notable given that prior to reforms the state’s prison population was increasing and more than 80 percent of newly admitted prisoners were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Reforms in Texas have had similar success, allowing the state to close prisons in recent years. Texas Public Policy Foundation senior fellow Jerry Madden discussed the work that has occurred in Texas and stressed that summit attendees should study the successes of other states in order to work toward implementing similar reforms throughout the country.

Finally, “Where’s the Data? Addressing Your Research Needs” focused on gaps in data and research that could better inform policy and non-profit leaders and criminal justice reform advocates. Panelists discussed what future research related to policing, sentencing, and corrections could help reformers better measure the effects of current policies and propose new solutions.

Ryan King, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, noted that one large gap in data is performance measures of policy implementations. King suggested that recidivism data would help inform whether the corrections system is truly succeeding in reforming inmates. He also discussed how historical data on states and simulations regarding sentence length would help sentencing decisions.

Identifying these gaps in research is one goal of Advancing Justice. If you would like to submit your proposal for research, visit the Charles Koch Foundation’s Request for Proposals page.