Unlikely Alliance Gets Results on Criminal Justice Reform

“Unite with anyone to do right” is the attitude that forged an unlikely – but ultimately successful – alliance to reform our federal criminal justice system, culminating in a strong bipartisan vote in the U.S. House and Senate for the First Step Act.

This landmark law is already helping federal inmates reconnect with their families and reintegrate into their communities.  But it might never have happened without the efforts of former Obama White House official Van Jones and Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries – two individuals who stood on opposite sides during previous policy debates, but who had the courage to unite to advance historic criminal justice reforms.

In a video shown Sunday at The Seminar Network’s annual winter meeting, the theme of which is “unite to unleash the potential in everyone,” Jones and Holden talked about how they came to work together, the obstacles they overcame, and what this effort means for the future.

The bottom line is that nobody can do it by themselves. That’s why the Network works to connect diverse groups of social entrepreneurs to provide a platform that empowers them to have a much greater impact—and to help more people improve their lives—than they could on their own.

Holden explained how, despite differences in many policy areas, the two men realized they shared “a deep sense of what justice should look like and what it shouldn’t look like.”

Jones echoed that notion, saying, “This idea of basic human dignity, that’s something we do agree on.”

Because they were able to see past their differences, Jones says they were able to “pass a bill that everybody said would never pass.”

“We flat-lined seven times,” said Jones. Added Holden, “But we stuck together.”

By taking a chance on collaboration and then sticking together even when success seemed out of reach, Jones and Holden showed what can be accomplished when people look for areas of agreement, and it sets the stage for more such collaborations in the future.

As Jones put it, “We started working together to get other people free. But the reality is those of us who worked on this, we got some freedom.”