Mark Holden in pews


Mark V. Holden

by Mark V. Holden

Quotation Mark

“What happens to those who are faced with these wrongs and don’t have the financial resources to fight them?”

Charles Koch


I was fortunate. I learned this at a very early age growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the 1970s and ‘80s during the advent of the War on Drugs. In hindsight, it had a lot to do with parents who encouraged me and held me accountable, who taught me the difference between right and wrong, and who put the fear of God in me. Not all youth are so fortunate. This became clear during my early college years working at a local prison where I ran across many of my former classmates — incarcerated at the same prison where I was employed. The grim reality was that while I had my whole life ahead of me, their lives were already ruined. A lack of education and resources, little family support, substance use disorders and an absence of treatment programs all led them astray. Seeing how our paths had so sharply diverged was definitely a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. It also lit a fire that started my desire to fix the criminal justice system. As Bryan Stevenson of Just Mercy says, “In order to care about an issue and be able to remedy it, you must be proximate to it.” I was already there.

Mark Holden

Mark Holden, Senior Vice President, Koch Industries, Inc.

In 1995, I began my career at Koch Industries as a litigator. It was here that I truly began to understand and embrace Charles Koch’s vision for a free and open society and witnessed, firsthand, how deeply grounded the Guiding Principles of Integrity and Stewardship & Compliance were in the company as they began to play out in their truest form. In the mid-1990s, our Corpus Christi refinery discovered that an employee had filed a false quarterly report with the Texas state environmental regulator regarding benzene emissions. As a result, that employee was separated from the company and, in good faith, we met with the state regulator to disclose the issue and self-report. At that meeting, we acknowledged that we were out of compliance and would work with the agency to bring the facility back to full compliance — which we did. The State of Texas closed the matter, and this should have been the end of the story.

The federal government, however, in a serious case of overreach, alleged a cover-up. This six-year battle resulted in four of our employees being indicted by a federal grand jury on 97 counts. We stood by our employees and these counts were later reduced to zero. Throughout the course of the investigation and ensuing trial, we discovered instances of serious prosecutorial overreach and abuse of authority. In the end, the government had no factual basis for its prosecution, and Koch and our employees were ultimately absolved of all charges, with a Koch subsidiary pleading guilty only to the original inaccurate report that we had voluntarily disclosed six years earlier. At the government’s request, our employees agreed not to sue the government for malicious prosecution. We were able to fight these charges and prevail. However, it did not come without a huge cost in company resources and great personal cost to the affected employees. It was the company’s first real taste of how unfair and unjust our criminal justice system had become — and, as a company, we were all now proximate to it. 

Quotation Mark

It’s our belief that people who have made mistakes and paid the penalty deserve a second chance to turn their life around by providing value for others.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management and Mark Holden

Leading the Charge – The Case for Criminal Justice Reform

You will find few people in this world more principled than Charles Koch, who has been passionate about criminal justice reform for most of his life and was a tireless advocate for smarter and more sane policies decades before our company’s brush with the system. But the situation left him wondering: If these injustices could happen to us, what happens to those who are faced with these wrongs and don’t have the financial resources to fight them? This renewed Charles’ vision of improving our criminal justice system for all, for making it more just and, further, to begin working to remove barriers to opportunity that prevent people from reaching their potential.

Effective criminal justice reform is the embodiment of Principle 3 — Principled Entrepreneurship™ — and practicing a philosophy of mutual benefit. It is the ultimate win-win situation in which we can help people improve their lives while making our communities safer and stronger. 

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How criminal justice reform unites Koch with Alice Marie Johnson (left).

I have seen these virtuous cycles of mutual benefit during my advocacy of criminal justice reform. Before leading the national re-entry program Safe Streets & Second Chances, a first-of-its-kind research and policy initiative supported by Koch Industries, former defense attorney John Koufos needed a second chance of his own. His entire life changed after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run accident while driving intoxicated. Today, he dedicates his time advocating for prisoners as they navigate the myriad of obstacles associated with re-entering and reintegrating into society. For Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who received a life sentence for a first-time drug offense, a second chance came in the form of presidential clemency. Now, she publicly advocates for those who are still in prison, giving them a ray of hope. I have been honored to help her bring more people together.

Their stories, and also many others, illustrate why we view criminal justice reform from a moral, constitutional, and fiscal perspective, toward equal rights, public safety, and redemption. The moral case is simple: This country has a two-tiered justice system in which people with resources often receive better outcomes than those who are less affluent. Poverty becomes criminalized through an outdated pre-trial justice system that incarcerates people who aren’t a public safety threat but can’t afford bail. Once saddled with a criminal record, these people then face a multitude of consequences preventing them from ever obtaining jobs, housing, education, licenses, loans, employment, and voting rights. To endlessly punish those who have paid their debt to society is simply immoral.

  • Jenny Kim, Koch Industries Deputy General Counsel

    Jenny Kim, KII’s deputy general counsel, shares Koch’s enthusiasm for criminal justice reform issues. Kim recently moderated a panel discussion at the National Diversity Council’s 15th Annual Diversity & Leadership Conference in Dallas.

  • Jenny Kim, Koch Industries Deputy General Counsel

    While there, she engaged with others committed to hiring people with criminal histories who want a chance to work and improve life for themselves, their families and their communities. Kim has described the power of second-chance hiring as “transformative.”


From a constitutional perspective, almost half of the Bill of Rights covers criminal justice. The Founders witnessed abuses of justice in their home countries and warned that such overreach here would pose the greatest threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Finally, the fiscal case. More than a decade ago, Texas wisely decided against spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a new prison. Instead, the state embarked on a plan to keep certain individuals out of prison who were not a threat to public safety, via specialty courts and probation. For those sentenced to prison, Texas created access to rehabilitation programs that reduced recidivism by equipping incarcerated individuals with the therapy and skills needed to succeed after their eventual release.

To date, these reforms have saved the Lone Star State more than $4 billion, led to the closing of eight prisons, and reduced crime to levels Texas hasn’t experienced since the 1960s. This smart-on-crime, soft-on-taxpayers approach has become a model for dozens of other states as well as the federal government, which passed the First Step Act legislation late last year.

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Uniting to do right: Van Jones (left) and Mark Holden (right) team up to discuss the passage of the First Step Act.

What's Next

To build on last year’s progress, we intend to address the following four areas that will help our country take the next step on criminal justice reform:

  1. Revamp the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Bureau of Prisons needs a makeover. First, BOP should be renamed the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a name that reflects its goal to correct illegal behavior and rehabilitate people to keep them from reoffending. Next, BCR should be housed outside the Department of Justice. With all due respect, DOJ’s mission isn’t to rehabilitate people who commit crimes — it’s to prosecute and imprison them, often for long periods of time. If we’re serious about keeping federal inmates from returning to prison, we should place BCR under the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is better suited to rehabilitate those in need.
  2. Reform the collateral consequences to a criminal conviction. While there can, at times, be reasons to block people with criminal records from certain opportunities, we should eliminate one-size-fits-all prohibitions on access to jobs, housing, loans, education, voting rights, and licenses. The federal government and the states should enact Clean Slate legislation, like the law passed last year in Pennsylvania, that automatically clears the records of eligible individuals who remain crime-free. We also should ensure that those on probation or parole are not sent to prison over bureaucratic, technical violations that have nothing to do with public safety.
  3. Reform asset forfeiture laws. Civil forfeiture violates the Fourth and Fifth amendments by allowing law enforcement to seize and retain assets from citizens who haven’t been charged with a crime. It shifts the burden of proof from the government to individuals whose property was (illegally) seized and requires individuals to sue to get their property back. It’s inconsistent with the proper role of police in our society, increases tensions in communities, and creates perverse incentives for law enforcement who are often able to use the proceeds to fund their activities.
  4. Honor the Sixth Amendment by requiring access to effective counsel for anyone charged with a felony or misdemeanor. States routinely prosecute defendants while failing to provide them with effective counsel. As 80% of those accused require a court-appointed lawyer, this is a serious constitutional crisis that must be addressed. Until then, the government should not be allowed to prosecute defendants who lack an effective advocate.

As we enter the 2020 election season, my hope is that leaders and lawmakers across the political spectrum embrace the cause of criminal justice reform. Last year, we achieved an incredible victory with passage of the First Step Act, the first time in the history of the federal system that there were comprehensive reforms that made the justice system more just and more focused on redemption and rehabilitation. This was championed by both Republicans and Democrats. We look forward to the victories ahead.