Wolf Talks Criminal Justice Reform At NGA Winter Meeting
This past weekend, Gov. Tom Wolf joined a panel to discuss “Unlocking the Key to Criminal Justice Reform” at the National Governors Association Winter meeting in Washington D.C.
Van Jones, CNN Commentator and CEO of Reform Alliance, Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS), and Mark Holden, Koch Industries Senior VP & General Counsel and Freedom Partners Chair, and Wolf shared the stage for close to an hour to discuss their thoughts on criminal justice reform in the nation and fielded questions from fellow Governors in attendance.
Wolf, who Jones labeled as a “strong pragmatic Democratic governor,” believes the topic of criminal justice reform unites people of both sides of the aisle and ultimately benefits every member of society.
“This is the holy grail of politics,” Wolf said. “You can bring extreme right, extreme left together because it’s not only fair, it’s smart.”
He also spent a great deal of time citing the situation with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, which garnered national headlines over the past couple of years.
Mill was sentenced to a two to four year prison sentence in 2017 after violating probation for reckless endangerment charges after he was seen popping wheelies on a dirt bike in New York City. The probation dated back to a 2009 gun and drug case, according to the Associated Press. He was served close to five months in prison for violating probation, but was released in April 2018 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “ordered an immediate release” that directed the judge to release him on “unsecured bail” according to CNN.
“Mill, who is from Pennsylvania, was confined to what 14 years of probation and his last infraction was popping a wheelie,” Wolf said. “That’s the kind of thing that is just wrong, but it’s also not very smart.”
Wolf touted Pennsylvania’s “Clean Slate Law,” while also specifically calling for bail reform, which he likened to being a debtors prison.
In addition to referencing Mill’s case and calling for bail reform, Wolf highlighted his background as a businessman and stressed his belief that continued criminal justice reform will also benefit the economy.
“First of all, everything we do in criminal justice reform is a jobs bill,” Wolf said. “This is about getting people back to work and we have to look at it from every aspect of it.”
He described too much spending towards jailing some as a “bad investment” and thought it made sense to use the funds saved from this towards other sectors.
“To things like schools, to things like roads and bridges, and things that actually make lives better,” Wolf said.
Wolf stated that for most of the time that he was in business he “automatically excluded anybody who had any brush with the law,” but decided to change that about “six or seven years ago”. He said he believes those “given a second chance” made for better employees because they had something to prove.
Bryant and Jones helped play a role in the passing of the First Step Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December that addresses criminal justice reform. Both Pennsylvania Senators Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey supported this bill.
On Friday, Wolf penned an op-ed on The Hill that expressed his opinion that reforming the criminal justice system will open up the economy.