Bipartisan Leadership on Reform, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Kentucky has been a model for bipartisan state-level reforms. Now we have the chance to take the lead at the federal level, too.”

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Fox News contributor and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds urged action on bipartisan criminal justice reform at a symposium at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. Mukasey said law enforcement was open to changing the current system, telling the crowd “if the criminal justice system is supposed to have any kind of transformative effect, it ain’t working.” In advance of Wednesday’s event, American Constitution Society chapter president David Woolums and Federalist Society chapter president Shannon Marie Keene co-authored an op-ed calling for bipartisan leadership on criminal justice reform.

“What we’ll do after the election is take a whip count and if there are more than 60 senators who want to go forward on that bill, we’ll find time to address it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed this week to taking a whip count on the FIRST STEP Act during the lame duck session, saying he would schedule a vote if there is sufficient support. President Trump reaffirmed his support for criminal justice reform, and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not represent the administration on criminal justice reform. “I make the decision,” Trump told Fox and Friends, “he doesn’t.”

“We understand that officer safety must be considered in any actions the state takes. But, we believe that can be accomplished without the debilitating use of solitary confinement.”

Isaiah Trinity Cabrales committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement for seven months at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. He was told he wouldn’t be allowed phone calls, visitors or trips to the commissary until May 2019, two years after he started serving his sentence. Reforms to the state’s solitary confinement system failed in the legislature in 2015, and were vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez in 2017. In response to the investigation of Cabrales’ death, the editorial board of the Las Cruces Sun News called for reform to the state’s “widespread use” of solitary confinement.

“The important thing is that all came together to pass good policy reform. At least in the area of criminal justice reform, Washington, D.C. could learn a big lesson from Michigan.”

In the Detroit News, the Mackinac Center’s Jarret Skorup pointed to Michigan’s bipartisan consensus on criminal justice as a model for national reform. Groups from across the political spectrum have worked together to improve the state’s bail system, raise the age at which juveniles are tried as adults, address overcriminalization, reform civil asset forfeiture, and increase access to expungements. Earlier this month, a package of bills to reform the state’s occupational licensing was passed with nearly unanimous support in the House and awaits action in the Senate. If passed, the legislation would target the “good moral character” provision of licensing laws, and allow people with criminal records to pursue the nearly 200 professions that are licensed by the state.

“If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”

Twenty states have created or expanded record-sealing programs, some with the full-throated support of prosecutors, since the beginning of 2017, and many are looking at Indiana’s Second Chance law as a model. The law, signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in 2013, created an expungement review process in which the seriousness of the offense and the outcome of the case determine the waiting period and form of record-sealing. Victims of crime are also given an opportunity to be heard before any relief is granted. Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry is an enthusiastic supporter, telling The New York Times “it’s just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community.”