We hear about the ongoing bipartisan plans for criminal justice reform. Personally, I favor them. However, there are cogent arguments for and against. Here are some things to consider.
[Source: The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform, by Josh Siegel]
Conservative criminal justice reform advocates are making the case that reducing the prison population, treating drug addiction, and giving a second chance to lawbreakers are policy prescriptions that mesh with conservative ideals.
While advocates cite polls that show that most conservatives support ideas like providing alternatives to prison for low-level drug offenders, GOP leaders on the criminal justice reform cause know they have more work to do to overcome a tough-on-crime mentality that came to define the 1980s and ’90s.
“No one is beyond redemption, and hope springs eternal,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the former Republican attorney general of Virginia who spends his time these days speaking out against the harsher sentences from the War on Drugs that helped lead to massive overcrowding in America’s prisons.
Cuccinelli used his appearance this past week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, outside Washington, D.C., as an opportunity to speak before thousands of conservative activists and leaders about why they should care about mass incarceration in America…
Panel discussions at CPAC point to Republican-led states that have already implemented successful reforms. Texas, especially, is considered the leader on the issue. Beginning in 2005, Texas, under the leadership of then Republican Gov. Rick Perry, undertook a number of reforms that are credited with a 12-percent reduction in its incarceration rate since 2009 and its lowest crime rate since 1968.
Texas, taking a more holistic approach to criminal justice, created specialized drug courts, which allow defendants to get treatment as an alternative to prison. It revamped its probation and parole system to swiftly punish violations without automatically sending the offender to prison—to get a violator’s attention without locking him up.
And in 2007, faced with the prospect of spending $2 billion to build and run new prisons to meet demand, a bipartisan group of state legislators instead invested $241 million to expand in-prison and community-based treatment and diversion programs.
“My appropriators loved that we spent less money,” said Jerry Madden, a former Republican member of the Texas legislature who helped design the reforms. “Since that time, we’ve reduced the crime rate to the lowest level since the 1960s, we have fewer prisons, and we’re safer. That’s what Republicans are about. We’re about public safety…”
“We have decided we’ve got to do a better job on focusing our limited resources on the most violent offenders,” said Kelsey (Kelsey was appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, also a Republican, to serve on the state’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism), who added that 40 percent of Tennessee’s prison population is made up of those committing technical violations of probation and parole.
Despite these efforts, and others like them, the conservative case for criminal justice reform has counter arguments that many find convincing. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is among those who believe the above steps are wrong-minded..
“I am at the street level, at the belly of beast every day, and I totally dismiss this idea of a nonviolent drug offender,” Clarke said during a Thursday appearance at CPAC. “If you are a mother struggling to keep your kid away from that dope dealer, getting that guy off the street is a big deal to her. I agree conservatives own this issue of law and order, and I find it unfathomable we would cede this back to the left by cuddling up to criminals.
There you have the opposing arguments. It’s an important and interesting argument and each of us should have a reasoned position on this issue.