Speaking recently in Washington, D.C. at an event hosted by Prison Fellowship, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy laid out a perfect example of why our country’s criminal justice laws need to be reformed.
Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who may be eyeing a return to the courtroom after leaves Congress at the end of his current term, explained how current policies fail to help individuals who have served their time successfully reenter society after they are released from prison.
“Even something as simple as having an ID when you have paid your debt,” Gowdy began. “We tell you to go get a job so you can pay restitution and so you can meet all of your societal obligations. Well, how are you gonna get a job if you don’t have a driver’s license … if you don’t have an ID? How are you supposed to apply?” he asked rhetorically.
That’s a great point, and one that Safe Streets & Second Chances Executive Director John Koufos, who spent 17 months behind bars, made, as well, during a recent interview with National Review:
Koufos mentioned to me a good example of the sort of challenge a felon reentering society faces, something I never thought about: getting a new form of valid identification. A prisoner is sentenced and serves their term, and oftentimes finds that on release, their only form of identification is their prison ID, which expires in one to three months, depending upon the jurisdiction. While they were in prison, their driver’s license expired.
“They can’t get an ID, because either they don’t have money to get a birth certificate” — official copies of birth certificates can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 — or if they go to their local DMV, a warrant check occurs, and they might have an old warrant for an old traffic ticket or an old speeding ticket that they didn’t pay forever ago,” Koufos said. While they were in jail, the unpaid tickets and failure to appear in court turned into warrants for arrest. “So they don’t want to go the DMV, because that might send them back to the county jail.”
Back to Gowdy. You may be surprised to hear a former state and federal prosecutor advocate for rethinking the length of sentences for non-violent drug offenders. But that’s exactly what the Chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee did.
“Do we really think there’s a correlation between the length of incarceration and the change in your behavior?” he asked. “With economic and non-violent crimes, the longer you incarcerate someone, the more you guarantee that they’re not gonna have a successful reentry back into society.”
‘We gotta figure out this proportionality piece,” Gowdy continued. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to learn in your 20th year in prison for drugs that you couldn’t learn the second year.
The vision that Gowdy outlined here is smart on crime and soft on taxpayers. It’s an approach that has helped his home state of South Carolina reduce crime and incarceration rates and close several prisons in the process, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
To watch the full remarks made by Rep. Gowdy and others who participated in the event, including Koch Industries General Counsel Mark Holden, click here.