Critics say that criminal justice policy often is made without much regard for some of the people who will be affected by it.
Some politicians call for “tough on crime” sentences, for example, with no apparent recognition that those convicted of crimes will end up serving long terms behind bars with little real hope of rehabilitation.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) has started a project to remedy that aspect of policymaking.
With the help of a U.S. Justice Department grant, CSG is arranging for governors and other top officials in states, where most criminal justice policy originates, to meet with inmates, correctional staff members and crime victims.
The “Face to Face” project starts Monday with events involving three governors. They will be joined between now and Aug. 23 by five other governors, a lieutenant governor and a state attorney general.
Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA), who has led an extensive criminal justice reform effort in his state, said in a statement issued by CSG, “I have learned through my own experience that criminal justice policy decisions are best made when they prioritize the needs and challenges of the people they ultimately impact.”
Then-President Barack Obama took part in a similar activity in July 2015, when he visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, where he spoke to inmates. He apparently was the first chief executive to tour a federal prison.
Another participant in the CSG project, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-CT), suggested that if more officials spoke directly with inmates, they would not take “a distant and hard line approach with respect to corrections and public safety policy.”
Malloy urged “a more thoughtful approach to criminal justice policy that focuses not only on data and numbers but also the people behind those numbers.”
The project is issuing a list of “potential action items” for officials to pursue after they meet with inmates and corrections officers. They include things like eliminating occupational licensing restrictions for those with criminal records and addressing the well being of corrections system employees.
The Association of State Correctional Administrators, the organization of state prison directors, is taking part in the project. Its director, Kevin Kempf, said, “The job of a corrections professional is immensely challenging, and often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Other organizations taking part include the National Reentry Resource Center, JustLeadershipUSA, and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
JustLeadershipUSA was founded by Glenn E. Martin, who served six years in a New York prison. He said, “Incarcerated people and those returning from prison or jail face statutory and practical obstacles that are often misunderstood. There’s no better way to inform our leaders of these issues than connecting face to face.”
The events scheduled so far by the project are these:
- Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-CT) meets with advocates for victims of crime and ex-inmates.
- Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) meets with former prisoners now in a “transitional house.”
- Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) works with corrections officers in a prison.
- Attorney General Mike DeWine (R-OH) visits a mental health facility in a maximum security prison.
- Attorney General DeWine visits women in a pre-release program, and volunteers.
- Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) meets with inmates in an employment-focused reentry program.
- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) meets with incarcerated women and prison staff.
- Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) meets with incarcerated women.
- Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R-WI) meets with inmates.
- Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) has lunch with former inmates and their families.
- Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) speaks about his interactions with parolees at the premiere of a film on the challenges of serving on community supervision.
For more information, see the project’s website .
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Matters and Washington bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcomed.