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Criminal reforms emphasized at annual policy conference

Mark Holden of Koch Industries speaks at the 2016 West Michigan Policy Forum.
Hilary Farrell

Criminal justice reforms emerged a leading topic of this year’s West Michigan Policy Forum.

The topic met an engaged audience of several hundred policy and business VIP’s at the annual forum in downtown Grand Rapids.

Reform advocates tied the topic to education, jobs, income, housing and government spending. Governor Rick Snyder made it a focal point in his speech, noting the connections between incarceration, mental illness and addiction.

"Many of these folks have a mental health issue. They have a substance abuse issue," Snyder says. "Those are the issues that are the underlying things that need to be solved, and simply locking them up doesn’t solve those."

An afternoon discussion on workforce development stressed the connection between reforms and business. Mark Holden of Koch Industries says the current system sets people up for failure.

"We don’t try to help them re-enter society. We put up these barriers – whether it’s you can’t get certain jobs, there’s occupational licensing that shuts you down; you can’t get housing, you can’t get benefits, you can’t get credits, you can’t get loans," he says. "And so it’s no surprise that our recidivism rates are so high."

Holden says there are many reasons why Koch chose to 'ban the box' in hiring – which is, removing a checkbox that asks about a criminal record. But a big reason is they found it’s simply good for business.

"One in three adults in this country have a criminal record," Holden says. "So if you’re going to have a box in your application that becomes really a filter for who you’re going to let apply, you're excluding one in three adults. That really narrows your application pool."

Transitioning public employees from pension to 401(k)-style retirement and eliminating Michigan’s income tax were two other leading topics at the 2016 forum.

Attendees later voted the three among top policymaking concerns.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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