Earlier this week, CHQ Chairman Richard Viguerie, a signer of the “Right on Crime” declaration of principles, argued in an op-ed published in The New York Times that conservatives should lead the way on prison reform.
Mr. Viguerie argued that, “These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.”
Senator Rand Paul, who came to Congress with strong backing from the Tea Party movement and libertarian-leaning voters, apparently agrees.
“I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian told Congressional Quarterly magazine.
Senator Paul is co-sponsoring a bill with liberal Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that, if it became law, would allow federal judges a so-called “safety valve.”
According to CQ, this “safety valve” effectively would do away with congressionally imposed minimum mandatory punishments in many cases. Similar House legislation is co-sponsored by Bobby Scott and another Kentucky Tea Party backed Republican, Representative Thomas Massie.
In the same vein, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, “created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books.”
Many have called for Congress to undertake such an effort and conservative-leaning organizations have backed this movement, including the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, putting them in the rare position of joining forces with the American Civil Liberties Union.
A number of conservative leaders, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former National Rifle Association President David Keene, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and tax reform crusader Grover Norquist have signed the “Right on Crime” declaration that says in part, prisons “are not the solution for every type of offender.” Establishment Republican presidential favorite Jeb Bush has recently joined those conservative leaders in signing the “Right on Crime” declaration.
To some, the motivation to back this effort may have roots in the libertarian idea that we have too many federal crimes and that the government has “over-criminalized” our society.
CQ reported House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte offering “statistics showing that Congress has added an average of 500 new crimes to the law books in each of the past three decades. Those federal crimes overlap with scores of existing penalties for the same crimes enacted by the states, which handle the vast majority of the nation’s criminal trials.”
For others, such as fiscal conservative Congressman Thom Massie, there is a dollars and cents component to the calculation.
“I call it socialism with constrained mobility,” Massie says. “You’re paying for all their [prisoners] medical costs. You’re paying for all their food, all their housing. You’ve got to have air conditioning. Jails are not cheap.”
Massie should know. He formerly served as the top elected official in Lewis County, Kentucky, where he noted, his “biggest line item” in the budget was incarceration.
“Right on Crime” exemplifies the big-picture conservative approach to this issue. It focuses on community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion. Using free-market and Christian principles, conservatives have an opportunity to put their beliefs into practice as an alternative to government-knows-best programs that are failing prisoners and the society into which they are released.
These principles work. In the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift on crime and punishment policy across the country. It really started in Texas in 2007. The state said no to building eight more prisons and began to shift nonviolent offenders from state prison into alternatives, by strengthening probation and parole supervision and treatment. Texas was able to avert nearly $2 billion in projected corrections spending increases, and its crime rate is declining. At the same time, the state’s parole failures have dropped by 39 percent.
With strong leadership from conservatives, South Dakota lawmakers passed a reform package in January that is expected to reduce costs by holding nonviolent offenders accountable through parole, probation, drug courts and other cost-effective programs.
By confronting this issue head on, conservatives are showing that our principles lead to practical solutions that make government less costly and more effective. We need to do more of that. Conservatives can show the way by impressing on more of our allies and political leaders that criminal justice reform is part of a conservative agenda.
Please click the link to read ConservativeHQ.com Chairman Richard Viguerie’s article, “A Conservative Case for Prison Reform” in its entirety.