As members of the nation’s conservative movement, we strongly support constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. We believe public safety is a core responsibility of government because the establishment of a well-functioning criminal justice system enforces order and respect for every person’s right to property and life, and ensures that liberty does not lead to license.
Conservatives correctly insist that government services be evaluated on whether they produce the best possible results at the lowest possible cost, but too often this lens of accountability has not focused as much on public safety policies as other areas of government. As such, corrections spending has expanded to become the second fastest growing area of state budgets—trailing only Medicaid.
Conservatives are known for being tough on crime, but we must also be tough on criminal justice spending. That means demanding more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety. A clear example is our reliance on prisons, which serve a critical role by incapacitating dangerous offenders and career criminals but are not the solution for every type of offender. And in some instances, they have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders—making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered.
Applying the following conservative principles to criminal justice policy is vital to achieving a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers.
1. As with any government program, the criminal justice system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results in protecting the public, lowering crime rates, reducing re-offending, collecting victim restitution and conserving taxpayers’ money.
2. Crime victims, along with the public and taxpayers, are among the key “consumers” of the criminal justice system; the victim’s conception of justice, public safety, and the offender’s risk for future criminal conduct should be prioritized when determining an appropriate punishment.
3. The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment—both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons.
4. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.
5. Because incentives affect human behavior, policies for both offenders and the corrections system must align incentives with our goals of public safety, victim restitution and satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness, thereby moving from a system that grows when it fails to one that rewards results.
6. Criminal law should be reserved for conduct that is either blameworthy or threatens public safety, not wielded to grow government and undermine economic freedom.
These principles are grounded in time-tested conservative truths—constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and the centrality of the family and community. All of these are critical to addressing today’s criminal justice challenges. It is time to apply these principles to the task of delivering a better return on taxpayers’ investments in public safety. Our security, prosperity, and freedom depend on it.
Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida
Newt Gingrich, American Solutions for Winning the Future
Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
Edwin Meese, III, Former U.S. Attorney General
William J. Bennett, Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Federal ”Drug Czar”
Asa Hutchinson, Former U.S. Attorney and Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
J.C. Watts, Former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District
Pat Nolan, Justice Fellowship
David Keene, Former Chairman of the American Conservative Union
Richard Viguerie, ConservativeHQ.com
Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012), Prison Fellowship Ministries
Brooke Rollins, Texas Public Policy Foundation
Paul Gessing, Rio Grande Foundation (NM)
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council
George Liebmann, Calvert Institute for Policy Research (MD)
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, American Alliance of Jews and Christians
Kelly McCutchen, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Penny Nance, Concerned Women for America
Ward Connerly, American Civil Rights Institute and former Regent of the University of California
John J. DiIulio, Jr., University of Pennsylvania
Kevin Kane, Pelican Institute for Public Policy (LA)
Bob Williams, State Budget Solutions
J. Robert McClure, III, James Madison Institute (FL)
Kevin Holtsberry, Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions (OH)
Viet Dinh, Georgetown University Law Center and former U.S. Assistant Attorney General
John S. McCollister, Platte Institute (NE)
Michael Carnuccio, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
Ronald F. Scheberle, American Legislative Exchange Council
Eli Lehrer, R Street Institute
David Barton, WallBuilders
Matthew Brouillette, Commonwealth Foundation (PA)
George Kelling, Manhattan Institute
Forest Thigpen, Mississippi Center for Public Policy
John Hood, John Locke Foundation (NC)
Craig Ladwig, Indiana Policy Review Foundation
Deborah Daniels, Former U.S. Attorney and U.S. Assistant Attorney General
Dominic M. Calabro, Florida TaxWatch
Richard E. Doran, Former Florida Attorney General
Donna Arduin, Arduin, Laffer & Moore
Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar
Ralph Reed, Founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition
Larry Thompson, Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General
Allan Bense, Former Speaker of the Florida House
Joe Whitley, Former Acting U.S. Associate Attorney General and U.S. Attorney
Jon Caldara, Independence Institute (CO)
Craig DeRoche, Former Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives
B. Wayne Hughes, Jr., Businessman/Philanthropist
Mike Thompson, Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (VA)
Brenda Talent, Show-Me Institute (MO)
Donald Devine, Former Director, Office of Personnel Management
Gary L. Bauer, Former President of the Family Research Council
Kris Steele, Former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
Jerry Madden, Former Chairman, Texas House of Representatives Corrections Committee
B.J. Nikkel, Former House Republican Majority Whip, Colorado House of Representatives