As 2016 Begins to Close, Where Is Criminal Justice Reform Heading?


As criminal justice reforms become increasingly common at the state level, the Charles Koch Institute remains committed to ensuring that the best ideas are shared. Though we may have arrived at our current criminal justice system through good intentions, far too many of its features run counter to the basic principles of a free society. And though the reforms seen in 2016 have been promising, there’s still much work to be done.

For one, there’s a need for more data related to policing, sentencing, and corrections in order to assess the efficacy of current policies as well as the viability of new programs. Furthermore, while new state laws and reforms signal gains, federal loopholes still hinder the growth of a free and just society. And although the criminal justice system make seem far away from the average individual, the growing number of regulations and laws with criminal penalties has permeated culture, becoming a very real liability for the average citizen in the 21st century.

Because these are some of the biggest reasons we care about criminal justice reform, the Charles Koch Institute is hosting a series of events to discuss how far criminal justice has come and where reforms should go from here. Here’s what’s coming up:

Safety and Justice in Tennessee: The Right Reforms

There are currently more than 20,000 inmates in Tennessee prisons, and another 70,000 are on probation and parole. Each year, more than 5,000 inmates leave state prisons and attempt to reintegrate into society. With corrections expenditures making up approximately 10 percent of the state budget, all Tennesseans would be better served by a system that prioritizes rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. The private sector can play an especially significant role in providing employment opportunities, which are vital to successful re-entry.

As states continue to enact meaningful criminal justice reforms, there could very well be a place for Tennessee to fit in with the growing movement.

The Charles Koch Institute brings together a panel of experts on September 13 in Nashville to explore reforms that promote public safety, reduce costs, and respect the dignity of individuals while making victims whole.

Click, Click, CLINK: The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Overcriminalization in America

Could sharing the password to your Netflix account make you a felon? The recent ruling regarding the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in United States v. Nosal suggests the answer may be yes. And while recent media attention toward the fact that the CFAA makes it a federal crime to access a computer system without authorization is a good thing, the act’s exact wording, which criminalizes any “unauthorized access” to a computer system or database as fraud, has been in place since 1986.

The wording in the CFAA and the recent ruling in Nosal contribute to what many are referring to as an unprecedented era of overcriminalization, where the growing volume of laws and regulations carrying criminal penalties makes it nearly impossible to discern what is and is not a crime. While specific, intentional criminal actions deserve proportional punishments, millions of Americans could become accidental criminals based on how certain judges and prosecutors choose to interpret the broad wording of the CFAA.

On September 14 in Washington, DC, the Charles Koch Institute will join the Electronic Frontier Foundation for a discussion of recent judicial decisions, the CFAA, and the troubles cause by overcriminalization.

Rebuilding Lives: New Research on Those Re-Entering New York

The effects of incarceration rarely end when individuals return home. Rather, the collateral consequences continue to take a toll, especially on families. New research from Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, faculty chair of the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, sheds light on those challenges and the sources of support for returning citizens and their families.

On October 18 in New York City, the Charles Koch Foundation, along with the J.C. Flowers Foundation and Harvard University, will discuss Western’s latest findings and determine a path forward.

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