Thompson Center Holds Criminal Justice Conference

The Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership held a two-day conference last week focusing on Criminal Justice Reform. The program discussed how lawmakers can address criminal justice reform in “more cost-efficient and liberty-enhancing” ways while still prioritizing public safety. Topics included prisoner re-entry into the workforce, prosecutorial discretion, and civil asset forfeiture.

The first panels on prisoner re-entry discussed the collateral consequences of some criminal justice laws, the benefits of anti-recidivism programs, and the U.S. Prison Reform Reconciliation Act that is currently making its way through Congress.

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, was the keynote speaker. Norquist discussed the difficulties and advantages of finding bipartisan solutions for criminal justice reform. Norquist’s ideas for reform included sunsets for mandatory minimum laws, occupational licensing reform, and asset forfeiture reform, among others.

After Norquist, a panel discussed prosecutorial discretion. Panelists included criminal defense and trial lawyers, several professors who focus on criminal procedure and policy, Wisconsin Deputy Attorney General Paul Connell, Paige Styler of the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, and the organization Measures for Justice.

The next day, several panelists discussed civil asset forfeiture reforms. The Institute for Justice (IJ) said Wisconsin made key reforms with this session’s 2017 Act 211, including protecting innocent owners and raising the burden of proof on the state to “clear and convincing evidence” that seized property is subject to forfeiture. However, IJ said Wisconsin, like other states, still needs more transparency in reporting forfeitures and how forfeited property is used. Other panelists, including Texas Public Policy Foundation, Right on Crime, and Heritage Foundation, discussed reforms such as laws to specify how law enforcement agencies can spend forfeited property and to make states less reliant on forfeiture funds.

The final panel of the conference focused on fines and fees. Attendees heard from two professors who focus on fines and fees in their criminal justice studies, a Senior Trial Counsel from the Massachusetts Attorney General Office, and a trial and investigations lawyer.

For more information on the conference and panelists, please visit the Thompson Center website.