It can be hard to envision a more polarizing time for American politics. It is easy to get the feeling that a resolution on the sky being blue would involve vicious discussions on the chamber floors about light refraction and cable news filled wall to wall with panels arguing over the troposphere. In short, there’s not a whole lot folks agree on these days. However, criminal justice reform is one of those few issues.
Some Democrats have long decried the ineffectiveness of criminal justice policy, noting recidivism rates and the “school to prison pipeline.” Traditionally “law and order Republicans” have been a little reluctant to get on board with the reform efforts but that is changing. One of the prominent Republicans that have been leading that charge for the past few years is Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal.
Throughout his time as governor, besides economic development of course, Deal’s administration has been pushing the ball forward year after year on criminal justice reform. This past year’s session saw his final efforts toward that end when the legislature passed a bail reform bill that would require judges to consider the financial circumstances of an accused when determining bail. At the signing, an emotional Deal reflected on his efforts at justice reform in the last eight years, “I didn’t know what we were going to be able to do when we started this undertaking. I had no idea that we would be this successful. I had hopes, I had dreams, but the reality is we exceeded even the hopes and the dreams.”
During the discussion on Thursday with President Trump, Deal laid out some of those successes and what it means not only for those individuals who have been given a second chance but also what it means for the state to have productive citizens rather than inmates.
“Smart on crime is not the same as soft on crime, which our results bear out,” said Deal. “In Georgia, we are addressing barriers to successful reentry through job training programs, ban-the-box legislation and operating a charter school in our prison system. We have implemented such initatives while making our communities safer, with a 10 percent decrease in the violent crime rate and a 20 percent decrease in overall crime, all while saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Deal also pointed to the large drops in incarceration rates for African-Americans in Georgia and how the state could serve as a model for the country. “We have also seen the African-American percentage of our prison system drop significantly since 2009, as incarceration rates for black males have dropped almost 30 percent and incarceration rates for black females have dropped 38.2 percent. Overall African-American commitments to our prisons are at the lowest level since 1987. I am pleased to share any information that might be helpful for a national model of reforming criminal justice,” said Deal.
“Our first duty is to our citizens, including those who have taken the wrong path but are seeking redemption and a new beginning,” said President Trump. “We’ve passed the First Step Act through the House, and we’re working very hard in the Senate to refine it and pass it into law. We think we’ll be successful in that regard. The bill expands vocational educational programs to eligible federal inmates so that more of them can learn a trade. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re teaching them trades. We’re teaching them different things that they can put into good use, and put into use to get jobs.”
You can see the full roundtable here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?449681-1/president-trump-hosts-roundtable-prison-reform&live&vod