Panel Seeks Bipartisan Justice Reform 07/23 06:22
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A new criminal justice reform group launching
Tuesday brings together Democratic and Republican governors, a Black Lives
Matter organizer and a Koch Industries vice president in an unlikely
collaboration aimed at harnessing momentum following a bipartisan overhaul last
Culled by veteran criminal justice policy expert Adam Gelb, the Council on
Criminal Justice includes former California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and
Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. It also has Charles Ramsey, a former
police leader in Washington and Philadelphia, and Black Lives Matter lead
organizer DeRay Mckesson.
Tying it all together are the group's two co-chairs: Koch Industries Vice
President Mark Holden, general counsel for the Kansas-based energy conglomerate
of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who advocate for conservative
causes, and Sally Yates, the former Deputy U.S. Attorney General who was fired
by President Donald Trump after she refused to defend his executive order
banning immigration from some majority Muslim countries.
"It's one of the few issues in which you do find some bipartisan consensus
these days," Yates said about criminal justice reform in an interview. "We need
to latch on to that and to latch on to this moment in time to be able to drive
The council wants to raise $25 million over five years to fulfill its
mission. The group already has a $2 million first-year budget from donors,
including HBO, the Ford Foundation, Arnold Ventures, the H.F. Guggenheim
Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the New York Community Trust, and the Malcolm
Hewitt Wiener Foundation.
Others spanning the political spectrum on the council's 25-member board of
trustees include CNN host and political commentator Van Jones, who heads the
REFORM Alliance; California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye,
who gave up her Republican Party affiliation last year; and Philadelphia's
former Democratic mayor, Michael Nutter.
Trustees and a 16-member board of directors will pick research topics and
assign task forces to generate reports. But the trustees and directors won't
sign off on those reports. The first task force, led by Republican former
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, aims to find consensus steps that a politically
divided federal government can quickly take to improve public safety and the
The trustees and directors serve three-year terms but are lifetime council
members, as is Deal. The directors are choosing about 100 more lifetime members
The group is an outgrowth of the federal First Steps Act, a major criminal
justice overhaul that Trump signed into law after it passed Congress with
bipartisan support. It seeks to harness energies from both sides of the aisle,
bringing together people motivated by finances and fairness.
The trustees include Eddie Bocanegra, who spent 14-years in prison for a
gang related murder only to go on and earn a degree from the prestigious
University of Chicago. He is now senior director of Readi Chicago, which seeks
to help men impacted by gun violence.
"Often people like myself with my background are excluded from these types
of councils or meetings," Bocanegra said.
Holden, the vice president of Koch Industries, worked as a guard at a
Massachusetts jail when he was in college, where he said he witnessed people
with mental illness being "warehoused."
"From my perspective, there are a lot of failed government programs. This is
the ultimate failed big government program that literally destroys lives and
wastes money," he said.
The council has two initial research projects underway, with reports
expected later this year.
One is exploring incarceration trends by race and gender. The other is
examining fallout from the 1994 Crime Bill passed under former Democratic
President Bill Clinton. The second topic is politically fraught because the
measure was crafted in large part by then-Sen. Joe Biden, who led the Senate
Judiciary Committee at the time and now is seeking the Democratic nomination
for president along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who voted for it.
After decades of dividing state and federal policymakers, the criminal
justice field seems ripe for consensus, said Adam Gelb, the council's chief
executive. He previously led the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety
Performance Project, which researched and helped states with sentencing
reforms, and once worked with Biden's committee on the 1994 Crime Bill.