Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.
“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”
For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.
“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”
The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.
Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.