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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 
year.

   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 
that forward."

   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 
justice system.

   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 
this summer.

   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.


(KR)

 
 
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