The nation’s criminal justice system is “broken” in some ways, especially as it affects women and minorities, leaders said in discussing the need for reform during the largest annual gathering of conservative activists.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the largest Republican caucus in Congress, and Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union’s Foundation Center for Criminal Justice Reform, were featured speakers during a panel on prison reform at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Republicans should play a leading role in passing criminal justice reform, while understanding how it affects many black Americans, the two conservatives said.
“Republicans need to be working to make sure that all life matters,” whether that of a prison inmate, an unborn child, or an elderly person, said Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
“I believe if we’re going to continue to talk about the brokenness of the family and how we pull people out of welfare … we cannot ignore the criminal justice system either,” Walker said Friday at the CPAC event.
Walker, the son of a pastor and a former Southern Baptist pastor himself, described the role of faith in criminal justice reform.
“All life matters to God,” he said.
Nolan paraphrased an observation often attributed to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., who also was a Baptist pastor: In order to change someone, you first must love them.
“Well, government programs can’t love people,” Nolan said. “Only people can love people.”
In order to truly help someone after incarceration, Nolan said, mentors also must work with that person while he is in prison.
It “makes all the difference in the world, and that’s part of President [Donald] Trump’s agenda on prison reform,” he said.
Walker recounted his experience as a pastor working with the incarcerated—inmates who made a “small” and “poor” decision, he said—who face a lifetime of consequences.
“Hearing their story time after time, how just a small decision, a poor decision, and with the justice system the way that it’s been developing, [puts] them on a path of, really, non-recovery,” he said.
Walker said he was “incredibly proud” to represent the district with the nation’s largest historically black college, North Carolina Agricultural Technical State University, in Greensboro. But, he said, liberal policies have hurt many black Americans.
“The reason we can [talk about criminal justice reform] is because we have 50 years of failed, left-wing, liberal, crazy ideology [that] has negatively impacted homeownership among some of our communities,” Walker said.
“We have a moment in time here to be able to drive our message home, to do it with the right heart and the right spirit.”
Pregnant women are particularly harmed inside the criminal justice system, Nolan argued.
“We shackle women during childbirth. That’s barbaric, just absolutely barbaric,” he said. And, he said, officials also take a newborn away from an imprisoned mother and “don’t even let the mother hold her newborn baby.”
That does serious psychological damage, Nolan said.
“This precious baby has been in the womb for nine months,” he said, “and when the mother holds the baby on her chest, they feel the same rhythm of breathing, they feel the same heartbeat that reassures them that they’re connected. And to deny the child her parent so young makes no sense.”
CPAC, the largest national gathering of conservative activists each year, ran from Thursday to Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.
Source material can be found at this site.