HARTFORD, CT — The two might find themselves at odds on most issues, but on the issue of criminal justice reform Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Koch Industries are on the same page.
The Koch brothers, Charles and David, are probably best known for their funding of conservative activism and candidates. They are more likely to find themselves on the other side of Malloy, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, when it comes to almost any other issue.
But that didn’t stop Malloy from making a phone call to see if the Koch foundation would help underwrite the his “Reimagining Justice” conference, which continues today at the Hartford Marriott.
Malloy said the conference was his wife’s idea, but that he made the phone call to the Koch’s, “who don’t normally do things with me.” He said he didn’t call the brothers, but he called the foundation which helped fund the conference.
The conference, which was put together by Malloy and his wife Cathy, who took a leading role in organizing the event and the speakers, sought to bring together criminal justice professionals from across the country for a discussion on the human impact of crime and incarceration.
According to Malloy his wife Cathy was responsible for cornering Valerie Jarrett at the last White House Christmas Party hosted by former President Barack Obama and securing her as a speaker for the conference.
Jarrett, one of Obama’s longest serving senior advisors, asked the audience if anyone says no to Mrs. Malloy.
In her half-hour speech Wednesday, Jarrett also remarked that criminal justice reforms enjoy bipartisan support around the country.
“There’s some pretty strange bedfellows in this space,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett talked about a trip she took to Wichita, Kansas at the request of Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries.
She said Holden worked in a prison between college and law school and some of the inmates he guarded were his friends growing up. She said he told her that every day when that prison gate closed and he left them behind he felt this enormous sense of guilt because he had done the same things they had. But he had “a stronger safety net and he didn’t get caught,” Jarrett said.
She said she went there to speak at a graduation of a group of women from a diversion program run by Lynn Gilkey, who started the program after spending time behind bars. She said Gilkey helps young women of color who are headed to prison avoid that path.
But redemption may be out of reach for many.
Between 1990 and 2014 the prison population grew by 61 percent, Jarrett said. The number of women incarcerated has grown by 400 percent in the last 30 years. There are. 2.2 million people in America’s prisons and 11 million cycle through jails on an annual basis.
Jarrett said the problem is threefold: “How do we keep people out of the criminal justice system in the first place? Number two, how do we ensure our criminal justice system is actually fair? And number three, how do we break the cycle of recidivism?”
She told the hundreds who attended the conference that it’s important for the state and local officials to take action in implementing criminal justice reforms because the federal government under Republican President Donald Trump has rolled back so many of the programs aimed at tackling the problem.
She said the current Department of Justice under Trump believes the consent decrees entered into in Ferguson, Missouri “might provide a disincentive to police.”
“I don’t think so,” Jarrett said. “Not in a country where we still experience these patterns and practice.”
The consent decree in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson provides a roadmap by which all parties, including police, can be held accountable for discrimination. The Obama Justice Department had found a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional police conduct in Ferguson.
In addition to the consent decree in Ferguson, Jarrett said the task force the Obama administration created looking at forensic science was also abandoned by the new administration.
She said they thought the federal government could be the blueprint everyone else could follow when it comes to criminal justice reforms.
“We’ve reversed our thinking,” Jarrett said.
She said states like Connecticut will now be leading the way on these types of reforms.
She applauded the Connecticut General Assembly for passing Malloy’s legislation that limits cash bail for misdemeanors and shortens the amount of time people charged with misdemeanors have to wait for bail.
The conference continues at 8 a.m. today at the Hartford Marriott in downtown Hartford. A schedule of today’s panels is located here.