Criminal Justice Reform

Pat Nolan speaking at the March SSV meeting

Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, stated that when violent-crime rates spiked in the 1980s and early 1990s, the response of most states and the federal government was to toughen criminal laws by abolishing parole, legislating lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, reducing “good-time” credits that shortened sentences for inmates who obeyed prison rules, making prison life even more miserable and building more prisons.

The incidence of crime dropped dramatically and rates are now back to where they were before the spike, there are differing views about why this has happened, but the social and economic costs of those lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key laws were enormous. What’s more, the offenders weren’t being diverted from a life of crime.

“Criminal justice reform” is the umbrella term for a wide variety of proposals that attempt to reverse erroneous convictions and also get offenders out of the criminal justice system and into a law-abiding, productive citizenship.

SSV board member Bob McGrath moderated the presentation and Q&A after.  Listen to the hour and 17 minute podcast.

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Pat Nolan is a nationally recognized leader in this movement. Pat is the director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform and a leader in the Right on Crime project, a movement of conservative leaders who advocate for criminal justice reform. Before that Pat served 15 years in the California State Assembly, the lower house of the California legislature. For four of those years he was the Assembly’s Republican Leader.

Pat has personal experience with the criminal justice system. He was prosecuted for a campaign contribution he accepted that turned out to be part of an FBI “sting.” He pled guilty to one count of racketeering and served 29 months in federal custody.

Pat described how some states like Texas have been finding ways to simultaneously reduce prison populations, shrink recidivism and lower costs. There are proposed federal and Virginia legislation with similar goals.

Pat holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Southern California. He and his wife Gail reside in Leesburg, Virginia.

Program Summary

Pat Nolan addressed the topic, Criminal Justice Reform: Getting Offenders Onto the Straight and Narrow. Pat served 15 years in the California State Assembly, and for four of those years he was the Assembly’s Republican Leader. Pat has personal experience with the criminal justice system. He was prosecuted for a campaign contribution he accepted that turned out to be part of an FBI “sting.” He pled guilty to one count of racketeering and served 29 months in federal custody.

SSV board member Bob McGrath introduced the program stating that while Pat had found that the federal prison system was just warehousing inmates—including elderly and disabled persons—some states are finding ways to simultaneous reduce prison population, shrink recidivism, and lower costs. As mentioned at last month’s SSV meeting, part of the mission of SSV is not only to inform, but to do some advocacy. During the course of his presentation, Pat will describe some federal and Virginia initiatives that the SSV might like to become advocates for.

A challenge faced by Pat and others in the leadership seeking criminal justice reform has been to engage conservatives in what has been seen as a liberal cause. Increasingly, conservatives have come to see the flaws, the costs and the lives and families destroyed, and conservatives are joining together with liberals to call for reforms.

Pat presented a brief video entitled, “Unshackled, – America’s Broken Justice System,” produced by the Center for Criminal Justice Reform and featuring such conservative luminaries as Newt Gingrich, Ken Cuccinelli and Grover Norquist. It is a tragedy that we have become the country that has the highest level of incarceration in the world. Twenty-one persons are arrested each minute. Does the punishment fit the crime? What’s happening in our prisons? The system turns mild offenders into hardened criminals. A woman was shackled to her bed while giving birth. Another woman was sent to a Texas prison on a drug-conspiracy conviction, and later was raped by a guard. In her words, “Rape was not part of my sentence.” Innocent persons are locked up. Civil forfeiture is legal theft by government lawyers.

At the conclusion of the program, Bob thanked Pat for educating us on such an important problem, and then he extended an invitation to the membership of SSV: If members would like to get together to study the various bills and other things that are going on in Virginia and at the federal level with regard to criminal justice reform, and then present their findings and recommendations to the group as a whole with the goal of advocacy, please let Bob know and a group can be convened.

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