Last month, we attended the Young Americans for Liberty Conference – otherwise known as YALCON. YALCON is an annual gathering of young, conservative and libertarian Americans from college campuses across the country, designed to educate and foster a dialogue among attendees about the pressing policy issues of the day. The conference featured top-line conservative and libertarian leaders and thinkers who come to debate one another, share ideas, and challenge our nation’s youth to take action.
Why, you might ask, were we there? We also had a policy challenge for today’s young lovers of liberty – to end the “incarceration nation.”
Erin Kreeger, senior project manager at the Coalition, elaborates on why YALCON was such a unique opportunity for us.
The United States leads developed countries in incarceration, with 2.17 million people currently in our nation’s prisons or jails. While our country is home to only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 20 percent of the world’s prison population. This bloated justice system not only is costly, but it leads us to ask, “are we really a nation of bad people, or these numbers the product of a failed system?”
For example, there is growing opposition to mandatory minimum sentences that limit judicial discretion when evaluating the facts and circumstances of a case during sentencing. The cycle of incarceration not only is costly to the state, but it also rips apart families and stymies economic mobility.
Haris Alic, digital and social media manager, adds his thoughts.
Expensive, unfair, unconstitutional – three things that are anathema to liberty-loving young Americans, and three reasons why they represent a crucial constituency in the fight for justice reform. As conservative momentum around justice reform grows, especially at the state level, we wanted help shape the conversation and mobilize the next generation to act on this vital issue.
That’s why we put together a panel discussion titled “Incarceration Nation: Holding Lawmakers Accountable for Failed Strategies.” This important conversation led to substantive dialogue with all sorts of YALCON attendees – political candidates, students, non-profit leaders, and legal scholars.
In their own words, here’s what the panelists had to say about how our current justice system infringes on liberty and how liberty-loving Americans can help shape the path towards reform.
Jason Pye, the director of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, offers a succinct summary of the justice system’s failings and gives some very practical advice for those who want to engage the issue:
Hannah Cox, outreach coordinator at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, discusses specific policy reforms that have the potential to make the justice system fairer and more effective:
C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter with Reason.com, explains what the liberty movement and the justice reform movement have in common:
In addition to talking with these justice reform leaders, we also spoke with several Young Americans for Liberty members to get their perspective on the urgent case for reform. Matthew, a student from Washington, criticized our justice system for failing the American people:
Sophia, another member from Kansas, had similar concerns:
Tim, a student from Minnesota, made a particularly strong case against the use of civil asset forfeiture:
And Josh, a lawyer from Pittsburgh, also spoke out against the practice as unconstitutional:
Lastly, we ran into Austin Petersen, a Missourian running for the United States Senate. Austin offered an interesting perspective on how criminal justice reform represents an opportunity to restore federalism and forge bipartisan partnerships.
It’s exciting to see such a broad spectrum of perspectives and concerns from the liberty movement – and the mobilization of young Americans for more freedom and more justice is a promise of change to come. With young men and women like this at the helm, we’re confident we’ll see some big changes to the system in the months, years, and decades to come.