We’re glad the Washington Post has recognized the growing conservative support for reforms in our criminal justice system, “Some Republicans push compassionate, anti-poverty agenda ahead of 2016 contest.” Conservatives have been working on criminal justice reform since Chuck Colson founded the Prison Fellowship in 1974. Colson, found guilty of obstruction of justice for his part in the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandals, walked out the prison gates and called on his fellow conservatives to thoroughly revamp the nation’s corrections system. He formed bi-partisan coalitions that pressed for such landmark legislation as the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Second Chance Act.
Over the last decade, conservative leaders in the states balked at funding the skyrocketing costs of their prisons, arguing that correctional costs should be subject to the same scrutiny as every other section of government. Conservatives in states like Texas realized they were spending too much money incarcerating low-risk offenders who could be safely and less expensively helped in their communities; they found that lower incarceration costs can go together with greater public safety. By using data-driven research they were able to be more selective in who they sent to prison.
Thanks to its criminal justice reforms, crime rates in Texas are at their lowest since 1968; the falling inmate population enabled the state to close three prisons; and taxpayers have avoided $3 billion in prison costs. Other states—including South Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—have passed similar reforms with strong support from conservatives.
We are glad to see conservative leaders in Congress sponsoring these common sense and proven policies that keep the public safe and cut the cost of corrections.
Former Texas House of Representatives Corrections Chairman and Senior Fellow, Right On Crime
Former Republican leader of the California State Assembly
Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.