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Criminal Justice Reform Garners Strange Bedfellows

Strange things are happening in Washington D.C.

Notoriously liberal and conservative groups have allied in a long-term plan to fix the gaping problems in the country’s criminal justice system. Criminal justice reform advocates on the right and left laid out ambitious plans for reform in a conference call Thursday.

The groups — the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Americans For Tax Reform, Faith and Freedom Coalition, Freedom Works, The Leadership Conference Education Fund and Right on Crime — indicated a plan to work as a coalition at the local, state and federal level on issues such as civil asset forfeiture, mandatory minimum sentencing and juvenile sentencing.

The coalition will have $5 million backing its efforts, The New York Times reports.

Anthony Romero, executive director of ACLU, said the first issue to tackle could be civil asset forfeiture, a process by which police can seize your property if they believe it is connected to criminal activity.

“That’s an issue that brings conservatives and liberals together,” he said on the call.

Matt Kibbe, president & CEO of FreedomWorks, said his group will be emphasizing criminal justice reform more in its endorsements and legislative scorecards. All the groups are intent on educating the public, but others are more aggressive about actually getting legislation passed.

The U.S. holds 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prison population. Currently, 2.2 million people are in U.S. prisons or jails. That’s a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years with a hefty price tag of $80 billion per year in taxpayer money.

State legislatures across the country — Wyoming, Virginia, Nebraska, Utah and others — have already made serious efforts at reform. Attorney General Eric Holder limited a fraction of civil asset forfeitures earlier this year, a move that was criticized as a mere drop in the bucket.

The Wednesday conference call gave little in the way of details, but beat the drum of cooperation. Ultimately, the coalition wants to put a dent in what it sees as a widespread, systematic problem with how criminal justice works in the U.S.

In a political atmosphere marked by gridlock, it hopes to provide something both parties can agree on. Overall, the coalition members shared a common message: the political landscape on criminal justice issues is changing.

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