Share This Article with a Friend!

Congressional Conservatives Leading On Prison Reform

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.”
Sen. Rand Paul
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 Chairman Richard Viguerie’s article, “A Conservative Case for Prison Reform” in its entirety.

Share this

michigan prisons

I really believe our systems need to be revamped. I believe our system needs to look at the prisoners who are able to be paroled, who are seniors 55 plus or even 60 plus who are serving life with possible parole, who were good citizens and just made a quick mistake without it being premeditated, that sadly caused somebodies life. That they are truly sorry and have been excellent prisoners. If these men and women were released how much money would this save the state?? I don't believe these people would commit another crime at all. I am just saying thank you for letting me voice my opinion.

Prison Reform

It is about time that a second look is being taken into the insanity of the "prison system" in this country. After spending 26 years up close and personal with it, I can tell you it is INSANE what is going on. Our prisons are making the best Criminal Class in the world. I live in PRISON STATE USA, good old Colorado. This entire state's economy depends on the prison system.

There are only two things that turn a "criminal" around. Religion and/or education. Every prisoner left in the system should have the opportunity to work themselves as far up the education ladder as possible. Everyone put out on parole should have mandatory education requirements.

Today our system of locking this men down in 23 hour lock ups are absolutely inhumane. This was the prison system of the early 1800's and they learned it didn't cause penance, it just drove men crazy.

We need to get the mentally ill out of the prison system.

We need to get the old and in firmed out of the prison system.

When a person is convicted of a felony for the second time, his family should loose their welfare payments and food stamps. This would make the gang bangers stop and think twice. Give them a good incentive to stop their criminal activity and would encourage parents to get back involved in their kid's lives.

I am so grateful for Rand Paul and the freedom movement that he brings to the Conservative Movement. I am sick and tired of the "same old same old." We need a huge influx of Libertarian thought to update, refresh, and offer the American People a real choice instead of "progressive light" policies.

Crime Definitions and Alternative Sentences

A better and fairer criminal justice system would provide fixed length sentences for well defined crimes. Whether all or just some time is spent in prison should be the subject of post conviction hearings where defense attorneys are not constitutionally required.
The convicted individual should be able to present a plan to live outside of prison that meets the requirements of public safety, restitution, rehabilitation and cost effectiveness. Individuals may propose all manner of conditions and restrictions that the state could not legally impose as a condition of parole. The cost of monitoring technology has greatly reduced as a result of automation and wireless technology.
To sweeten the pie the program could be combined with a jobs programs funded by elimination the counterproductive and unnecessary $50 billion charitable tax deduction. It make no sense for the government to give tax benefits to very rich people for taking investment in private business and giving it to charity. Most charities no longer need the money. In 2000 the U.S. nonprofits had twice the net wealth of the poorer half of the country (the poor and lower middle class) and today the charities have eight times the wealth. A better way to help the charities would be to let them sponsor jobs for those in need. About 2,500,000 jobs at an average of $20,000 each could be created with the $50 that is wasted on the very rich.
Consider what conservative good could flow if those in need, including convicted persons, could obtain jobs and support from charities. A lot of people and innocent families could be spared a lot of suffering - and the government would save a lot of money.