A new initiative is hoping to shape the future of criminal justice policy by putting lawmakers who guide discussion on the issue face-to-face with those most impacted by the outcome.
The Face to Face Initiative isn’t just pairing governors with prisoners, they also get to work with crime victims and correctional staff. The program wants top lawmakers to personally engage with those closest to the correctional system.
“We’ve got to turn prisons from these very dark places that we try to push out of our thought process and have them foremost in our thought process,” said Connecticut’s Governor, Dan Malloy. This argument is often heard from prison reform activists who cite lawmakers’ lack of firsthand knowledge of the correctional system as a reason for bad policy.
Malloy is one of eight governors who are kicking off the initiative and meeting inmates to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges of incarcerated Americans.
Missouri’s Gov. Eric Greitens worked side-by-side with correctional officers, Roy Cooper of North Carolina visited a Christian transitional home in his state aimed at preparing ex-offenders for the outside world, Brian Sandoval of Nevada hosted a luncheon for ex-offenders and their families at the governor’s mansion, and Montana’s Steve Bullock visited a women’s recovery program. Governors from Utah, Georgia, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, and Hawaii are also involved in the program.
The program’s sponsor, The Council on State Governments Justice Center, lays out a number of ways officials can interact and gain a better understanding of the issues those within the correctional system face: they can meet with correctional officer or with a family of someone incarcerated and they can also work with victims’ advocates or visit a mentally ill incarcerated inmate. But, of course, each governor can do what they deem is the best way to interface with the correctional system in their state.
The CSJ Justice Center along with the National Reentry Resource Center sponsor the program with a host other criminal justice resource groups. They hope to bring other elected officials into the fold as the program develops, but they chose to start with governors because they “set the tone and tempo for the work that happens in their states.”