CLEVELAND, July 19, 2016 — The Republican governors of Georgia, Kentucky and Oklahoma today urged their fellow conservative state executives to take up the mantle of justice reform, build on the momentum that is sweeping the country, and enact reforms in their own states.
Governors Nathan Deal (Georgia), Matt Bevin (Kentucky) and Mary Fallin (Oklahoma) joined Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, GOPAC Chairman David Avella and the U.S. Justice Action Network (USJAN) in issuing the call to action during the forum, “Changing Laws, Changing Lives,” hosted at the Great Lakes Science Center during the Republican National Convention (RNC) underway this week in Cleveland.
Following the screening of the film highlighting the challenges and successes of each governor’s efforts to reform their state’s justice system, the governors led a panel discussion before an audience that included their state delegations to the RNC. During the forum, participants urged the audience to share the short film with family, friends and neighbors, to support the petition calling on Congress to pass federal justice reform legislation, and for individuals to contact their elected officials to “change laws and change lives.”
“As a former prosecutor and judge, I saw the failure of our system up close and personal,” Governor Deal said. “I knew we had to do something different than the mainstream approach. When I run into the families of people who have made mistakes but have turned their lives around, it’s emotional to me. These people who’ve gone to prison lost everything. To see them decide that they want to be different…it’s a story of redemption. Their families are so proud of them. And I’m proud of them, too. Yes, we’ve saved millions of dollars. But we’ve saved lives. And that’s what is most important.”
“America was founded by people who came here for a second chance,” Governor Bevin said. “And in Kentucky, we believe in redemption and opportunity. That’s why we passed a law that allows people who have made mistakes but have paid their debt to society an opportunity to wipe their records clean, find jobs, support their families, and lead crime-free lives. We aren’t helping society if we do not rethink what incarceration means, because there but for the grace of God go all of us. Prison is not and cannot be the only answer. We must also restore dignity and offer a path back to society. It is not just my hope, it is my challenge to leaders across this country to take the issue of criminal justice reform personally.”
“Anything we can do to address these societal issues and improve the overall well-being of our state, that is an important cause to me,” Governor Fallin said. “A prison sentence is detrimental to the family and can be generationally detrimental as well. If we can break that cycle and help people get back on their feet, help put that family back together, that’s going to make for a stronger state and a stronger nation. Those that have made a mistake or are struggling with addiction, we can find a better way to help them get back into society and get back on their feet, to fulfill their own value in life.”
In 2016, all three governors signed bills to improve the justice system in their home states, and went one step further to raise awareness around the issue. Governor Deal became the first governor to address the full body RNC on the issue of justice reform in a keynote speech during their South Carolina meeting, and the RNC passed a resolution in support of reform shortly thereafter. Governor Fallin was the first governor in the country to mention the exploding population of women incarcerated in her State of the State speech. And in Kentucky, Governor Bevin was the first governor in the Commonwealth’s history to address a correctional facility’s substance abuse program.
“This is clearly an area where Republicans have taken the lead,” Chairman Avella stated. “Washington’s big government, one-size-fits-all policies are not working, and it is Republican leaders who are finding solutions. Core conservative principles of personal responsibility, strengthening families, government accountability and curbing government overreach are the foundation of justice reform.”
USJAN Executive Director Holly Harris noted the political strength of these issues. “We’ve done extensive polling on justice reform that reveals a mandate from both sides of the political aisle,” she said. “Voters overwhelmingly support policies that replace unreasonable mandatory minimum sentences, offer more treatment and rehabilitation options and provide for second chances for those who have earned it. Those who are running for office this fall would do well to take note of voter interest in this issue, understand the impact it will have on their communities, and get on board with changing laws so that lives will be positively impacted.”