Back when Bill ClintonBill ClintonTop Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Bill Clinton hits Trump, tax reform plan in Georgetown speech The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE was Governor Clinton and running for the White House for the first time, he took to the steps of the Houston City Hall to rail against then-President George H.W. Bush’s record on crime. Surrounded by uniformed police officers, Clinton proclaimed, “I want to be tough on crime.” That November he was elected president and, two years later, he signed what has been called one of the most sweeping federal crime laws, which expanded the federal prison system and required harsh punishments.

Twenty years later, he apologized. Bill Clinton now says the law he signed actually did not make us safer, but led to an epidemic of incarceration across the country. And while President Obama has talked about the need for action on sentencing reform and removing obstacles for those leaving prison, the updated view of our criminal justice system is coming from both sides of the aisle. In a groundbreaking moment, House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election White House strikes back at Bushes over legacy MORE (R-Ohio) said we have locked up too many people for “flimsy reasons” and added that he had long been supportive of justice reform.  Now, leaders from both parties in the House and Senate are working together on alternatives to incarceration and provisions aimed at reducing recidivism. Republican governors from Georgia to Alabama have offered significant steps forward on justice reform. It’s a perfect storm.  

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Surely, our presidential candidates are feeling which way the winds blow. When more than two million Americans are behind bars at a cost of $80 billion a year, and one in three Americans is now burdened with a criminal record, it’s time to offer commonsense solutions to safely reduce our prison population and break down barriers for those returning to society. That’s why the U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan advocacy organization seeking to make our criminal justice system fairer and more effective, is urging presidential contenders to take a stand. We will be on the ground for debates and events in early primary states to ensure that candidates pledge to continue the progress we have made toward reform, and offer specific proposals that show they are educated on the issues and understand what is needed to fix these serious problems. 

In recent months, we have seen candidates voice their thoughts on reforms. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE’s first policy speech specifically addressed ending the “era of mass incarceration.” She spoke of the problems ex-offenders face reentering society, including the prospect of long-term unemployment. Martin O’Malley has offered a plan to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and invest in job training programs to reduce recidivism.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator asks to be taken off Moore fundraising appeals Red state lawmakers find blue state piggy bank Prosecutors tell Paul to expect federal charges against attacker: report MORE (R-Ky.) has long been out front in offering proposals for cutting our prison population and reducing the financial burden on taxpayers.  He has proposed legislation to reform sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and has been vocal on the need to “break the cycle of incarceration.” Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) used his announcement speech to decry locking up those with mental illness and drug addictions, recommending alternatives to incarceration.  When he repeated these lines at the first GOP debate in Cleveland, the audience of conservatives went wild with applause.  And Carly Fiorina, hot off her strong debate performance, took that moment to talk about her own personal connection and commitment to justice reform.

The U.S. Justice Action Network is watching and listening.  And we are pleased with the progress. But we need to see more. From now until November 2016, we will nudge, push, cajole and motivate those running to propose concrete plans for fixing our broken criminal justice system.

Twenty years after Bill Clinton made his “tough on crime” speech, almost three million children in America have a parent behind bars. Twenty years from now, will our next president have to apologize, or will he or she have created a legacy? The U.S. Justice Action Network will be working hard to ensure we nominate candidates on both sides of the aisle where there is no doubt it will be the latter.

Harris is executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan advocacy group working to reform the criminal justice system.