In this Huffington Post article, senior policy analyst Vikrant Reddy makes the case for criminal justice reform from a social conservative standpoint.
In the Lone Star State, the effort [to reform the criminal justice system] has conservative roots. Budget-minded state leaders crafted an alternative to perpetually feeding money into prison construction to warehouse non-violent offenders, rather than investing in drug treatment or better parole programs.
Calling immigration detention an “outdated model,” this Huffington Post article recognizes the Right On Crime initiative, saying “Where some level of supervision is necessary, advances in technology, effective case management approaches, and the development of cost-effective alternatives to detention give the federal government the tools to reform its approach. It should take a cue from Texas and other states — prompted by reform movements like ‘Right on Crime’ — that are increasingly turning to the use of more innovative alternatives rather than automatically resorting to confinement.”
In response to Governor Perry’s remarks concerning the decriminalization of marijuana, this article by Texas Monthly credits Right On Crime’s reform policies with helping to reduce Texas’ incarceration rates.
“Texas’s recent reforms on drug policy are summarized at the Right on Crime initiative, which began here, at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and has since spread to a number of other states.
Jailing people for nonviolent drug crimes is expensive, if nothing else, and historically Texas has had woefully high incarceration rates, which have required a disproportionate share of the state’s general spending. Texas still has the biggest prison population in the country, but during Perry’s time as governor, and partly as a result of these reforms, the state’s incarceration rate has dropped…”
“Restoring common sense to sentencing is the obvious first step in downsizing prisons.”
In his latest op-ed, Bill Keller of The New York Times, writes about the issue of mass incarceration in the U.S. and what our nation can do to reverse this trend.
The ROC statement of principles is also cited in the article as Mr. Keller discusses this bipartisan movement.
On Sunday, National Public Radio’s Eliza Barclay published a story on San Quentin’s “Insight Garden Program”; an initiative that trains inmates in horticulture and landscaping as well as providing a modicum of reentry support upon release. The results have been laudable: according to the program administrators, only 10 percent of program participants return to prison versus 70 percent of the California prison population as a whole.
How can this be? Could the panacea to all crime been right under our noses (er, feet)? Unlikely.
Apples and Oranges: California’s three year return-to-prison rate (63.7 percent in 2012) includes ALL inmates released from a facility during the 2007-2008 fiscal year. This would range from the chronic jaywalker to the serial armed robber, and contain the vast distribution of risk factors this population holds. It is highly likely that inmates who already demonstrate a modicum of pro-social beliefs and personality traits will self-select into the gardening program while those who are high risk, criminogenically speaking, will pass on the opportunity or not qualify to participate.
“Black Box” Rehabilitation: The program has not been rigorously evaluated. The director’s graduate thesis, the only scholarly work on this program, relies heavily on qualitative data gathered through interviews with various stakeholders. While this serves as a good initial step, quantitative data must me gathered on those who participate and those who do not and, if similar enough to consider a comparison group, recidivism rates contrasted.
Perhaps gardening does clarify the inmate’s relation with the greater world and engenders a sense of responsibility. It may even reduce the inmate’s antisocial rationalizations of his behavior, leading him to rationally consider the outcomes of future deviant actions before they are committed. However, barring proper process evaluation, this claim is untenable.
Idealistic Goals, Unproven Results: The operant theory behind this program is that the inmate’s criminality is mitigated through their connection to nature. This is a common theme, extending back as far as Jeffersonian ideals of an agrarian society. Unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Take rigorous wilderness programs for juvenile delinquents as an example. These programs are generally cheaper and less coercive than incarceration, and can be completed in a fraction of the time. Collective analyses have shown time and again that these programs are no more beneficial to public safety than doing nothing. Modest effects are only observed in programs with an extensive therapy component.
As with all modalities of rehabilitation, the onus is on the program’s proponents to demonstrate how it tackles a proven criminogenic risk factor – that is, an element of the offender that correlates with criminal behavior. Deviant personality traits, belief systems, and peer networks are largely unaffected by Insight.
The Insight program does have several positive qualities. It provides inmates with useable vocational training, skills for interacting with potential supervisors, coworkers, and clients, and invests the inmate in a long-term project that requires attention-to-detail and follow-through. This is to say nothing of the good that comes from the literal fruit of their endeavors. However, to deem this program a success is, at the very least, premature.
Louisiana leads the nation in incarceration. The state’s prison population doubled during the past couple of decades.
As discussed in The Advocate, Kevin Kane of the Pelican Institute, along with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, are working to reverse this trend. Click here to read the article.
Right on Crime Policy Director Marc Levin is quoted in this Omaha World Herald article that discusses the inadequacies of Nebraska’s prison system.
Marc Levin, who helped guide a prison reform effort in Texas that allowed the state to close prisons and reduce spending, said increased rehab while in prison was key in the Lone Star State.
“Led by Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich, Right on Crime seeks to reduce the number of prisons and prisoners to fight crime, prioritize victims, and protect taxpayers.”
In this article, GPPF discusses the significance of offender rehabilitation, quoting convicted murderer Aakeem Woodard.
“It is impossible to let a person go five-to-six years in prison and expect that person to rehabilitate himself and begin that process six months before you come home.”
GPPF also authored the article “Tearing Down Invisible Prison Walls Created by Poverty,” in which they address the issue of offender re-entry into society.