Pat Nolan
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

Pat Nolan on Criminal Justice Reform, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, and the First Step Act

Wesley J. Smith
Pat Nolan
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Is criminal justice a “human dignity issue?” Wesley’s guest, Pat Nolan makes a compelling case that it is and for improving the manner in which—and attention we pay to—the care and rehabilitation of incarcerated people. In their conversation, Nolan discusses his upbringing in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood and how that led him to a career got in politics as a means of protecting society from criminal predators. But when Nolan was incarcerated for a campaign finance violation, he saw the issue from the other side of the prison cell. Prisoners are too often treated in a demeaning and cruelly unjust fashion, he says, that not demeans their essential humanhood but which also does violence to their souls, making them more likely to commit crimes after they are released.

While in prison, Nolan was recruited by the late Chuck Colson to work for his Prison Fellowship ministry on issues of criminal justice reform and methods of improving prisoner rehabilitation, a work that took a distinctly Christian approach which he continues years after his mentor’s death. Nolan was instrumental in helping to pass the First Step Act, signed into law by President Trump, a criminal justice reform measure that is already reducing recidivism and improving community safety. And he’s not done yet. “I will go out with my boots on,” he tells Wesley. Nolan explains his commitment to help those who many scorn in this compelling conversation about an seemingly intractable and uniquely American issue.

Pat Nolan is the Director Emeritus of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Nolan Center for Justice. Launched in 2014, The Center informs and mobilizes public support for criminal justice reforms based on conservative principles, and works with government officials to effectively implement those reforms.

Nolan is a leading voice on criminal justice reform, highlighting the skyrocketing costs of prison, fiscal responsibility in the criminal justice system and reforms for non-violent offenders. He is a leader of the Right on Crime project— a national movement of conservative leaders supporting sensible and proven reforms to our criminal justice system – policies that will contain prison costs while keeping the public safe.

Previously, he served for 15 years in the California State Assembly, four of those as the Assembly Republican Leader. He was a leader on crime issues, particularly on behalf of victims’ rights, was one of the original sponsors of the Victims’ Bill of Rights (Proposition 15), and was awarded the “Victims Advocate Award” by Parents of Murdered Children.

Nolan was targeted for prosecution for a campaign contribution he accepted which turned out to be part of an FBI sting. He pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and served 29 months in federal custody. Before entering prison a friend of his told him that “for centuries Christians have left their day-to-day world, humbled themselves, done menial labor, prayed and studied their faith. We call that a monastery. View this time as your monastic experience.” Pat credits this friend with helping him enter prison in a frame of mind which allowed him to put the time to good use/

Nolan is the author of When Prisoners Return, which describes the important role of the Church in helping prisoners get back on their feet after they are released. He is a frequent expert witness at Congressional hearings on important issues such as prison work programs, juvenile justice, prison safety, offender reintegration and religious freedom. He has lectured at many judicial conferences and legal conventions.

His opinion pieces have appeared in numerous periodicals including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the National Law Journal, National Review Online, and the Washington Times. He is a frequent guest on television and radio shows, including Fox Network News, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Michael Reagan, and Sean Hannity.

Pat earned both his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and his Juris Doctorate at the University of Southern California.