By J.B. Wogan
In 2015, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a prison. Since then, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a former district attorney, has walked the halls of his state’s prisons 21 times.
“We’ve got to turn [prisons] from these very dark places that we try to push out of our thought process and have them foremost in our thought process,” Malloy said at a conference last week.
He was talking about “Face to Face,” a new initiative that encourages elected state officials to meet the people affected by their criminal justice policies. Malloy and seven other governors have so far opted to sit down for conversations with inmates, corrections officers and crime victims as part of Face to Face.
The initiative was launched this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and co-sponsored by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the National Center for Victims of Crime and JustLeadershipUSA, an organization that trains ex-offenders to become advocates for change.
“This is a bit of a departure for us,” says Suzanne Brown-McBride, acting executive director of the Justice Center.
The Justice Center regularly releases data-heavy reports on juvenile justice, recidivism, substance abuse and mental health in states. It also offers trainings and tools for practitioners in the field. While that work is also informed by interviews with people involved in the criminal justice system, Brown-McBride says “this is the first time we’ve focused so singularly on those voices. We’re hoping [governors] keep the voices and experiences of those impacted by the criminal justice system in mind.”