This week, Fox Business’ The Independents continued their earlier conversation with Chuck DeVore, the Vice President for Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation– this time, showcasing the Right on Crime campaign. He touched on several aspects of the campaign and the effort to reform America’s criminal justice system.
Conservatives ought to be skeptical of big government in all of its forms, not just the welfare state or Obamacare or other such manifestations of big government, but things like crime and the criminal justice system and prisons. If bigger usually isn’t better in the conservative mind set, then maybe we should look at how to reform the criminal justice system: how to keep people out of prison, reduce the crime rate, make people safer and save money. And that is what Right on Crime is all about.
We do have to admit that the violent crime rate did rise by several times from the early 60′s to the early 1990′s, but it’s about half of what it was in 1991 today. So the crime rate has declined quite a bit. But we are spending way too much money on a prison system. We are incarcerating far too many non-violent offenders, and the problem with that is, we often take, when we incarcerate a non-violent offender, give them a “master’s degree in criminal behavior” and eventually they get out. The last thing that we want is for a non-violent offender to come out of prison a more hardened criminal…
Back in 2005–and accelerating in 2007 [in Texas]–you had a bipartisan two-house effort between Senator John Whitmire (a Democrat from the Houston area) and Representative Jerry Madden (a Republican), and they worked together to reform Texas’ criminal-justice and prison system. What ended up happening is, Texas ended up not building three prisons. In fact, they actually shut down three prisons, closed them. They saved about $3 billion in forgone prison construction expenses and shifted some of that money–some of that savings went into monitoring of individuals who were on parole or probation. It’s what we call immediate and intermediate sanctions, so if you put someone else on probation or parole–and they begin to violate by not checking in or coming up positive on a drug test–you don’t wait five or six of seven months and then put them back into prison. You give them an immediate penalty, some incremental penalty, like [having] to spend weekends in jail, or something the get their attention. What we have found is that when you do that, when you increase supervision and when you have these graduated sanctions, what happens is these individuals are more likely to be reformed, more likely to be redeemed, and not reoffend. They can stay out in the workforce, support their families, be tax-paying citizens and get back on the road to being productive people….
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