A three-day conference, called “Advancing Justice: An Agenda for Human Dignity & Public Safety,” was billed by one of its organizers as “transideological.” The two governors who spoke at the conference – Democrat Jack Markell from Delaware and Republican Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas – did not come armed with press releases about new policies that they would be implementing.
Both governors talked about the progress they’d made so far in implementing criminal-justice reform in their states. So far, the results are modest: A 3 percent drop in Delaware’s prison population and a little less than that in Arkansas. Yet Markell stopped the state’s automatic ban on driver’s licenses for drug offenders and gave state judges discretion to impose concurrent sentences instead of the consecutive terms previously required.
“We can lead by example,” Markell said triumphantly at a lunch address yesterday.
At dinnertime, Hutchinson told summit participants that he wanted to send a message to fellow Republicans that “rightsizing” the justice system did not run counter to conservative values.
“For years, conservatives only had one approach to the criminal-justice system: the tough-on-crime approach,” he said.
There were no grand proposals for policy change or announcements of newly minted research on issues covered during the meeting: overcriminalization, sentencing, policing, and alternatives to incarceration—to name a few. Underlining organizers’ claim that the conference was nonpartisan, the two-dozen panels and plenary sessions focused more on creating consensus than on fostering debate.