State Policymakers Discuss Successes and Challenges at Justice Reinvestment Summit

Justice ReinvestmentMore than 400 legislators, corrections officials and other criminal justice stakeholders from 35 states met last week to hear stories of justice reform in action, during a national summit on justice reinvestment. Co-hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the three-day event, “Justice Reinvestment National Summit: Sustaining Success, Maintaining Momentum,” aimed to give participants an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences with justice reinvestment, an approach designed to reduce corrections spending and reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Over the course of two days, participants had an opportunity to discuss the challenges they faced in pursuing a justice reinvestment approach and to learn from each other about ways to sustain reforms after legislation has been enacted. Policymakers had an opportunity to share lessons learned in engaging key criminal justice stakeholders, such as prosecutors and judges, while practitioners described their experiences in overhauling community supervision systems and getting the most out of behavioral health services.

In his address to the conference, anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist noted that these bi-partisan reforms can and do save taxpayer dollars, and received applause from the crowd as he stressed that, savings aside, he valued justice reinvestment for its focus on measuring outcomes and continued engagement with stakeholders.

In another session, Newt Gingrich and Van Jones—both co-hosts of CNN’s “Crossfire”—spoke to the summit via a split-screen video link. Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives and a signatory to Right on Crime alliance of conservative voices in favor of justice reform, and Van Jones, the founder of Color of Change and Rebuild the Dream, said that while their outlooks were politically different, on the issue of justice reinvestment and its initiatives, they had common ground.

“You might be surprised—we agree,” Jones said. Gingrich added that, with mounting state and federal interest in how to reform the justice system at all levels, they plan to hold briefings with decision makers in support of the issue in the course of 2015.

How the public sees this progress—through the media—was the question tackled by a panel of seasoned reporters. Leading the discussion was Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times and editor of The Marshall Project, an online newsroom devoted to investigating criminal justice.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance launched the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2010. The CSG Justice Center has helped design and implement justice reinvestment projects in 21 states to date.