I have seen these virtuous cycles of mutual benefit during my advocacy of criminal justice reform. Before leading the national re-entry program Safe Streets & Second Chances, a first-of-its-kind research and policy initiative supported by Koch Industries, former defense attorney John Koufos needed a second chance of his own. His entire life changed after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run accident while driving intoxicated. Today, he dedicates his time advocating for prisoners as they navigate the myriad of obstacles associated with re-entering and reintegrating into society. For Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who received a life sentence for a first-time drug offense, a second chance came in the form of presidential clemency. Now, she publicly advocates for those who are still in prison, giving them a ray of hope. I have been honored to help her bring more people together.
Their stories, and also many others, illustrate why we view criminal justice reform from a moral, constitutional, and fiscal perspective, toward equal rights, public safety, and redemption. The moral case is simple: This country has a two-tiered justice system in which people with resources often receive better outcomes than those who are less affluent. Poverty becomes criminalized through an outdated pre-trial justice system that incarcerates people who aren’t a public safety threat but can’t afford bail. Once saddled with a criminal record, these people then face a multitude of consequences preventing them from ever obtaining jobs, housing, education, licenses, loans, employment, and voting rights. To endlessly punish those who have paid their debt to society is simply immoral.