This was written for my Navigating State Government Class
Derek Cohen sat on a wooden bench, wide-eyed as people quickly passed him. His blue and white tie popped against his gray button-down shirt. He pulled on the sleeve of his form-fitting black suit, making sure that he was presentable.
“We consult with a lot of legislators on bills that involve criminal justice reform via prison issues or procedural issues,” Cohen said. “Often times [legislators] have certain questions that they might have about writing the bill.”
One of Cohen’s favorite things about being at the capitol is that he gets to meet many interesting people. Coming from the University of Cincinnati where he was getting his Ph.D. in criminology, he never thought he would be working in policy. He thought he would stick to academia, but got interested in policy after taking a few classes on the subject.
“I generally ended up going to where I felt I would make the most change, and here I am.”
Cohen is a Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Justice, a section of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The foundation educates policymaker using academic research and outreach, with Cohen focusing on criminal justice and the prison system. Because of his job, he spends a lot of time at the capitol.
There are currently more than 90 bills related to criminal justice and the prison system.
“We try to lend our expertise wherever we can,” Cohen said.
Cohen said that even though many bills might start controversy, he has to remaining neutral.
“We do provide our research on where the bill would be best used on,” said Cohen. “We have already done research for many bills that have been introduced which include non-disclosure of criminal records [and] the criminalization of truancy. All these things are areas that the legislation is showing a general interest in reform efforts and how it should look like.”
On that day, Cohen was meeting with different legislators and representatives to discuss the non-disclosure of criminal records. The debate stems from whether or not people should be eligible to seal their records for a small legal offense.
“We are currently working with them on the technical issues and what does it mean for those who do have those records once legislation has passed,” Cohen said.
Reflecting on the last session, Cohen said that the non-disclosure issue did not see much momentum. He said that it might change this legislative session.
“All sides of the House can get behind [this issue] and I think we are going to see some movement on that,” he said.