Criminal Justice Reform

Pat Nolan speaking at the Senior Center in Charlottesville.

When violent-crime rates spiked in the 1980s and early 1990s, the response of most states and the federal government was to toughen criminal laws by abolishing parole, legislating lengthy mandatory minimum sentences, reducing “good-time” credits that shortened sentences for inmates who obeyed prison rules, making prison life even more miserable and building more prisons.

The incidence of crime dropped dramatically and rates are now back to where they were before the spike, there are differing views about why this has happened, but the social and economic costs of those lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key laws were enormous. What’s more, the offenders weren’t being diverted from a life of crime.

“Criminal justice reform” is the umbrella term for a wide variety of proposals that attempt to reverse erroneous convictions and also get offenders out of the criminal justice system and into a law-abiding, productive citizenship.

Pat Nolan is a nationally recognized leader in this movement. Pat is the director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform and a leader in the Right on Crime project, a movement of conservative leaders who advocate for criminal justice reform. Before that Pat served 15 years in the California State Assembly, the lower house of the California legislature. For four of those years he was the Assembly’s Republican Leader.

Pat has personal experience with the criminal justice system. He was prosecuted for a campaign contribution he accepted that turned out to be part of an FBI “sting.” He pled guilty to one count of racketeering and served 29 months in federal custody.

Pat will describe how some states have been finding ways simultaneously to reduce prison populations, shrink recidivism and lower costs and discuss proposed federal and Virginia legislation with similar goals.

Pat holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Southern California. He and his wife Gail reside in Leesburg.


The event took place at the Wednesday March 14, 2018 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. The meeting was held at the Senior Center in Charlottesville. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. SSV board member Bob McGrath moderated.