Washington, D.C., is buzzing this week over renewed efforts to reform the United States’ criminal justice system. Prominent organizations and business leaders, including Koch Industries, attended meetings Thursday on Capitol Hill and at the White House to talk through prisoner reentry.
Mark Holden, Koch Industries’ general counsel and senior vice president, attended meetings with lawmakers and participated in a listening session that included President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and White House Adviser Jared Kushner, among others.
Holden sat down with Koch News to recap his experience:
Q: What was the message you delivered to President Trump during the meeting?
A: We discussed the importance of reducing recidivism and how a good job can assist in that regard. There are tens of thousands of collateral consequences that keep hurting those who have already paid their debts to society. As I stated ahead of the meetings, prisoner reentry needs to start on day one of the sentence, not a few months before release. Mental health and drug rehabilitation also need to be part of the equation. Even for people with strong family and community support systems, it can be a real challenge to start over after years in prison.
I’m truly encouraged and heartened by the wide array of folks from different businesses and organizations that are coming together to find common-sense solutions for our criminal justice system. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the listening session at the White House is a positive step to accomplish something concrete at the federal level. We should keep listening to each other, keep the dialogue going, and always remember that we’re all Americans, and we all want to help people improve their lives.
Q: How is Koch addressing this challenge in its businesses?
A: For one, we’ve banned the box on our job applications, which is something I raised with the president. None of us is perfect, and we prefer to evaluate potential employees on their potential, not their past mistakes. Growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, I worked at a prison there during my college breaks. I saw a lot of familiar faces I’d lost touch with over the years, and I realized that “there but for the grace of God go I.” I had parents who cared—not everyone is so fortunate. Not only have we banned the box, but we’ve also teamed up with Mike Rowe and Project JumpStart to help job-seekers get the skills they need to make it in today’s transforming world. We’re investing in students, supporting curriculum that encourages entrepreneurship and innovative thinking.
Q: What’s your outlook for criminal justice reform in 2018?
A: This is an election year, typically a time when a focus is placed on what divides us as a country instead of what brings us together. But as I’ve seen in the past and I saw today, there are good people from all walks of life who are committed to fixing this system, regardless of political party. Too many American families are being torn apart by unfair and unjust sentencing, particularly on drugs. There is real momentum at both the federal and state levels to enact thoughtful and meaningful reforms that will give those who paid their debt to society a true second chance. I’m optimistic that we’ll see real results in the year ahead. We plan to help drive these issues to the extent we can be helpful.
Read more about why Koch Industries believes in advocating for the principles of a free and open society here.