WSW: Is Criminal Justice Reform Smart Politics?

Jan 7, 2016

State Prison in Jackson, Michigan
Credit Andrew Jameson, Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris says lawmakers shouldn’t fear criminal justice reform. “If I’m a politician I’d be concerned about not voting for these reforms.” 


The network is a bi-partisan group made up of several conservative and progressive organizations seeking reform to the criminal justice system. Michigan is one of the states they have chosen to focus their efforts.

Harris says legislation passed in Michigan last year brought some transparency to the practice known as “civil asset forfeiture” where the property of criminal suspects is seized. Harris says the next step should be to make sure that no one’s property is forfeited until after they are convicted.

The state House approved legislation last year to institute “presumptive parole.” But the proposal stalled in the state Senate. Harris says that would make paroling an offender when they have served their entire minimum sentence the standard. But she says the parole board would still have the final decision. Harris says the burden would be on the parole board to show why someone should remain in prison after their minimum sentence is up. Harris says she hopes presumptive parole will be part of comprehensive criminal justice reform in Michigan this year.

Harris says she is confident that criminal justice reform will pass in Michigan and other states. She says polling conducted by the U.S. Justice Action Network shows broad support for sentencing and prison re-entry programs. Harris says that includes several states and people across the ideological spectrum. She says “it’s a different time” for issues of crime and incarceration.

2016 is an election year, and Harris says “politics always complicates things.” But she says the policy changes proposed by the U.S. Justice Action Network save money and make the public safer. Harris says the polling shows that it’s also good politics. Harris says criminal justice reform is the one area which will see progress this year at the federal level. She says that’s because there is recognition that the “system is broken.” Harris says all of the candidates running for President have acknowledged problems with criminal justice policy. She says the question is how to fix it.

Image from Wikimedia Commons