Dream Corps

By Kevin Glass | Watchdog Arena

Too many people are in prison.

That’s the message that came out of the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform on Thursday, sponsored by a group of diverse organizations: former Obama administration official Van Jones’ #cut50, Koch Industries, the American Civil Liberties Union and Newt Gingrich’s Gingrich Productions.

COURAGEOUS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Democratic leaders at a summit for criminal justice reform praised the work Republicans are doing on the issue.

And it wasn’t just a gathering of activist organizations. Legislators from both sides of the aisle had remarks for the conference, emphasizing a need for reform and highlighting the actual legislative measures being cooperated on up on Capitol Hill to address all sides of criminal justice reform.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Attorney General Eric Holder, among others, gave speeches, and President Obama sent in a video address.

Jones, emceeing the event, apologized for the last-minute absence of some of the Republicans who were advertised to be there. Ongoing budget negotiations meant that some of those legislators could not make it away from the Hill.

But GOP power players like U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. John Kasich  of Ohio sent video addresses to the conference, highlighting their own advocacy for the issues being discussed. So did U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a Republican that Jones said “holds the keys to the kingdom” on criminal justice reform issues.

Booker promoted the REDEEM Act, a sentencing reform bill he is working on in the Senate co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. The bill would address the way the criminal justice system treats juveniles and the way an offense in teen years has a tendency to follow an offender around for the rest of their lives — even when that offense seems relatively minor.

Booker also praised the “courage of Republicans around the country to step out” on the issue. He had positive words for different pieces of legislation sponsored by Lee, which would decrease certain mandatory minimum sentences and expand judicial discretion for some offenses; and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whose legislation would expand recidivism reduction programs.

At the state level, it’s often been Republicans, not Democrats, taking the lead on criminal justice reform.

Adam Gelb, director of Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety and Performance Project, said Texas has been leading the way on reform under Perry, while Jones said “Democratic governors have been pushing in the wrong direction.”

The leadership of the late-Chuck Colson was cited multiple times by the conservatives at the event. Colson, a former Nixon administration official who served seven months for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal, was a born-again Christian who founded Prison Fellowship, a Christian organization focused on rehabilitation and criminal justice reform.