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Where the Right Went Wrong on Criminal Justice

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a collaborative series with the R Street Institute exploring conservative approaches to criminal justice reform.

Conservatism is not a monolith. There is no one way to be a conservative, think like a conservative, or define the conservative outlook. But there are certain bedrock principles of those on the Right: limited government, economic responsibility, and a belief that our Founding Fathers laid out sacrosanct rights in our Constitution. A firm belief in the importance of family, morality, and, for some, faith has generally guided the application of these principles. While no party can represent the whole of conservatism, the Republican Party’s role as the dominant right-of-center force in modern American politics makes it a good place to take ideological temperatures on the Right.

When it comes to criminal justice, the Republicans have for decades declared themselves to be the party of “law and order.” This commitment to “tough on crime” policies helped it win elections in the latter half of the 20th century, but at the cost of a society in which a third of working-age Americans have criminal records and more than 10 million people go to jail each year. The fact that the United States, with nearly 2.2 million Americans behind bars, incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation is not a point of pride. This shameful position is put in even starker relief when one considers that the nations with the second and third highest number of incarcerated individuals are China and Russia, respectively.

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These realities, products of the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” sensibility of yesteryear, have tarnished the image of Republicans and conservatives in the minds of many. Though Republicans have greatly increased their political power in recent elections, they have nevertheless alienated many of the fastest growing segments of the electorate, casting a pall across the impressive electoral successes of the past decade.

The extension of conservative principles to criminal justice policies offers a chance to court new constituencies and bring conservative messages to voting blocs that will dominate American politics in the future, all without risking the current base of conservative support. Already, right-leaning organizations, armed with polling data that show significant backing from many conservatives, are mobilizing on criminal justice issues. It’s time to leverage these efforts to rebuild the conservative identity. Perhaps no other policy area holds more potential than criminal justice reform.

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It is not clear when the tough on crime agenda first crept into the conservative ethos. But it was a major theme of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater during his failed 1964 presidential campaign. It is important to note that the Goldwater campaign also corresponded with the start of a significant rise in U.S. crime rates that generated serious civic concerns. In the two decades beginning in 1960, the murder rate nearly doubled. Violent crime rose from 161 per 100,000 Americans to 363 in the 1960s, then rose further to 548 in the 1970s, then to 663 in the 1980s. The turbulence of the era was further compounded by various forms of social upheaval that, for the first time, could be routinely broadcast on television into homes across the nation.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the law and order theme became a Republican mantra during those years. But it also isn’t surprising that that mantra generated considerable controversy. Some equated it to a kind of code expression for views considered by many to be racist. It was seen also as an integral part of the so-called Southern Strategy that emerged among GOP powerbrokers after Goldwater, in the wake of the major civil rights legislation that preceded his presidential run, pulling five Deep South states away from Democratic dominance. Richard Nixon refined that strategy in his successful 1968 presidential campaign in an effort to transform the Solid South into a GOP region. Nixon’s embrace of the tough on crime ethos was an integral part of that strategy. As a candidate he used the words “law” and “order” 21 times during his acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican nominating convention. After assuming the presidency, he declared a “war on drugs” and a year later expanded it into a general “war on crime.”

If the law and order emphasis by Republicans was an understandable response to voter concerns, the policy prescriptions that emanated from it proved highly problematic, even calamitous in some reaches of society. Over the course of almost half a century, this war on crime helped to quadruple America’s incarceration rates. Democrats, at a loss for a sound policy response in the face of clear public sentiment, chose not to fight bad criminal justice policy with better ideas. Ultimately they jumped on the bandwagon alongside their conservative opponents. Together, the two parties brought a new era of mass incarceration to America.

But a new chapter is now being written by conservatives on criminal justice policy. Just as the desire to win elections brought the country the tough-on-crime agenda, the necessity to balance budgets has contributed to a new chapter of reform. This reform movement also started in the South, this time in Texas, where a traditional lock ’em up approach gave way to new thinking about how best—and how cheaply—to protect citizens from criminals. From 2001 to 2004, the state experienced a 9 percent increase in its prison population. By 2007, it had billions in prison costs and an inmate population that required the building of at least four new prisons.

The state never built those prisons. Instead, it passed comprehensive criminal justice reform packages that focused on reentry, treatment, and diversion programs. The reforms have generated impressive results. Texas has actually begun closing prisons, saving billions in taxpayer dollars. Moreover, crime has gone down since the programs were instituted. Thanks to these successes, a number of other states have begun their own reforms, including Georgia, South Carolina, and even Louisiana, the state with the nation’s highest number of incarcerated individuals per capita.

Furthermore, as conservatives in these states assert, these kinds of reforms hardly mean that they have become soft on crime. Instead, they have simply become smarter on crime by diverting precious law enforcement resources away from dealing with petty criminals and toward the dangerous ones. The goal of these reforms is not a world without prisons; it is one in which those prisons are small and reserved for our most dangerous offenders.

Conservatives today struggle with a widespread public perception that their party, the GOP, represents primarily the rich and powerful—and that it caters primarily to white Americans. This underlying weakness in a time of changing national demographics took on an added dimension in many quarters with the presidential election of Donald Trump. It wasn’t always thus. Indeed, the modern conservative movement and the Republican Party owe much of their existence and heritage to the 19th century American abolitionists. The Republican Party was born as an institution inextricably linked to slavery opposition. And when the slavery issue further splintered the Democratic Party and contributed to the total collapse of the Whigs, it set into motion a series of events that led to the election of an unlikely lawyer from Illinois: Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president.

There is no doubt that Lincoln fought the Civil War for reasons beyond slavery, but he made clear in his second inaugural address and other remarks that he believed slavery was at the core of the conflict—and that the carnage of the Civil War was divine retribution for the horrors of slavery. Lincoln further linked slavery to the war when he advocated abolition, first with the Emancipation Proclamation and then via the 13th Amendment. These connections between conservatives, Republicans, and abolition are relevant to the current debate because many believe that reforming a capricious criminal justice system is a natural cause for the party that ended slavery. In this view, a system that demeans and degrades generations of Americans has no place in a civilized society. Many conservatives are beginning to believe also that it has no place on the Right.

Rather, conservatives must go back to the principles of liberty and dignity that first defined their party. Applying these principles to criminal justice reform would allow conservatives and Republicans to separate themselves from the image of being largely a party of white America. Communities of color, after all, are affected disproportionately by the current criminal justice system. African Americans and Hispanics together represent nearly 60 percent of the individuals incarcerated but only about 30 percent of the U.S. population. Thus it is not hard to see what the political Right stands to gain by bringing back the 2000 presidential campaign slogan of “compassionate conservatism” and shedding the impression—deserved or not—that conservatives don’t care about communities of color the same way they care about big business and the wealthy.

After all, conservatives are looking into a demographic abyss. Results from the past several presidential elections signify the need to expand the conservative political base. President Trump captured only 8 percent of the African-American vote, about the same as Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George W. Bush in 2000. While Trump did better among Hispanic voters, he still received only 28 percent, well below the approximately 34 percent received by Reagan or 35 percent received by Bush.

These numbers are even more significant when one considers the country’s changing demographics. In 1980, when Reagan was first elected, Hispanics represented 6.5 percent of the population or 14.8 million citizens. Today, there are more than 55 million Hispanics, representing more than 17 percent of the nation’s population. By 2050, nearly one in three Americans will be Hispanic, and whites will be a minority. If conservatives do not make a concerted effort to change their image and secure votes from these growing portions of the electorate, they will lose their political standing. And criminal justice reform represents a strong opportunity to move these potential voters into the “right” column.

Start with the disparate impact of financial means found in nearly every cranny of our justice system. Even for defendants who have yet to be convicted of a crime this holds true. The average income of those held prior to trial is less than half that of their free counterparts. It also extends to those on the receiving end of crime, with the poorest Americans over three times more likely to be the victims of crime than their wealthier counterparts. Conservative politicians who advance “smart on crime” initiatives have the chance to gain political traction in many communities currently unlikely to vote Republican.

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As is fitting for a movement that holds a reverence for tradition, the rebirth of a conservative identity begins with a return to origins on matters of morality. Those on the Right have long injected matters of morality into political discourse and expected government to incentivize model human behavior. Indeed, the Republican platform uses the word “moral” nine times to describe topics ranging from healthcare to the environment. But whether the source of one’s morality is secular or ecclesiastical, criminal justice reform represents an opportunity for morally minded conservatives to forge a revitalized, persuasive conservative identity.

For conservatives, the family unit has long been viewed as the cornerstone of a well-functioning society; criminal justice reform fits snugly with that sentiment. The impact of incarceration, in particular, extends well beyond the incarcerated individuals themselves. Families have to contend with the loss of a breadwinner, spouses with a new strain on their marriage, and children with the absence of a parent.

This takes a heavy toll. For every year a married individual is incarcerated, the likelihood of divorce increases by 32 percent. And the negative impact lingers well past the period of incarceration. Further, separating fathers from their families contributes to increased rates of homelessness, while the incarceration of single mothers often leads their children to be raised in foster care at taxpayer expense. With millions of Americans churning through our jails and prisons every year, it is no exaggeration to say that more reasonable justice policies would save thousands of marriages and return even more children to two-parent households. This is an outcome that conservatives should cheer, and its promotion would only require a small extension of their deeply held family values.

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The inherent dignity of every human life is another tenet of the Republican Party that lives on in the conservative movement today. However, it is also an issue that permeates too few aspects of the criminal justice system. From abhorrent prison conditions to the stigmatization of the formerly incarcerated to the negative public safety implications of ill-conceived criminal justice policies, there is no shortage of ways in which the justice system cheapens life. Efforts to alleviate these various forms of suffering and protect our communities offer conservatives another path to better defend the intrinsic worth of every human life.

Given the Christian Right’s prominence within modern conservatism, it seems prudent to at least consider how current criminal justice policies compare to Christian values. While conservatives certainly do not hold dominion over Christian values, Christians represent a substantial portion of the conservative base. Further, Christian interest groups hold special power within the conservative movement, with many, particularly on the Left, being wary of how this influence might be used.

Maybe the most obvious lesson is from Christ himself—a criminal in the eyes of the state, subject to a miscarriage of justice by an imperfect criminal justice system. Beyond the despicable treatment of Christ, however, are the lessons he gave on how those accused and those guilty of crimes should be treated. He recognized the “legality” of stoning an adulteress but nonetheless shamed the crowd by asking for the one who had not sinned to “cast the first stone.” This is an important lesson for conservatives—that the legality of punishment should not be the end of the inquiry of what is just.

While the Bible certainly has examples of harsh punishments, it’s important to note that throughout his life Christ spoke persistently and passionately about reconciliation over retribution. He famously told his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Criminal justice reform offers conservatives an opportunity to secure a more favorable image by returning to their roots and acting in concert with principles that most of them already hold.

The examination of principles and morality helps to answer “why” criminal justice reform nestles into a renewed conservative identity, but this does little to detail how such reforms will sustain this identity and propel it forward. For these answers, it’s necessary to look at the problems that afflict each stage of the criminal justice cycle and how conservatives can reap political rewards from remedial action. With the preamble of the Republican Party platform touting “limited government” and the “rights of the people” as bedrock principles, there is perhaps no better place to begin than pretrial jail reform. Of the roughly 615,000 individuals held in our local jails at this very moment, around 465,000 are awaiting trial and have yet to be convicted of whatever crime has been alleged. Too often, these incarcerated individuals are not the most dangerous, but the poorest—those unable to afford bond. Further, the incarcerated are hardly the only ones to suffer from this loss of freedom. Even a short stay in jail raises the risk of criminal behavior after an individual’s release, meaning that unnecessary jailing is a public safety matter of concern to all. We also pay dearly when we lock up so many of our fellow Americans, with the price tag of a single day in jail as high as $571.27 in some jurisdictions.

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It’s not difficult to see how reform-minded conservatives could wade into this pretrial morass and emerge with a burnished image and new political support. Jail reform is an opportunity to address a pernicious form of government overreach that disproportionately affects those constituencies that conservatives most need to court: minorities, youth, and the poor. What’s more, it can be done with little risk to existing bases of support. Reducing jail costs and increasing public safety are easy to defend to lifelong conservatives who expect politicians to exhibit fiscal probity and foster law-abiding communities. In short, it’s an ideal bridge between traditional members of the Right and potential new ones.

While advocacy on behalf of those simply awaiting trial may be the low-hanging fruit of conservative criminal justice reform, the improvement of our sentencing and reentry strategies provides another natural avenue for the growth of the conservative coalition. Not only do we spend an inordinate amount of money locking up an astonishing number of our fellow citizens, but we get shockingly little return on this investment. The rate at which individuals are re-incarcerated within three years of release varies from Virginia’s low of 23.4 percent to Delaware’s high of 69.7 percent, meaning that at our very best we still fail a quarter of the time. Clearly, our strategy of favoring incarceration over its alternatives and then ignoring rehabilitation in our pursuit of punishment is not working.

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Tackling this broken system would allow conservatives to once again serve as the public’s primary protectors against inefficient and ill-advised government action. This familiar message would not only resonate with the already established core constituencies of the Right but would likely stir new audiences less familiar with conservative views on the power of redemption and the importance of individual liberty. Conservatives must ensure that individuals do not suffer unnecessary or unjustified loss of freedom and must work to increase the post-release opportunities for those who are incarcerated. This would grant them newfound credibility as the champions of both strong communities and individual enterprise.

Conservatives likewise should be drawn to the myriad ways that the government continues to interfere in the lives and economic well-being of the tens of millions of Americans with a criminal conviction. Following a criminal conviction, the constraints on an individual’s ability to earn a living, and by extension maintain a law-abiding lifestyle, are extensive. Tens of thousands of regulations bar individuals with a criminal record from participating in trades as mundane as hairdressing. Not only do these regulations rob employers of the ability to hire employees, but similar business licensing barriers even prevent individuals from earning an honest living as a business owner in many fields.

Becoming the standard bearers of reform on this issue would only require conservatives to cut through the red tape of government. Not only would businesses benefit from this expansion of market forces, but the primary recipients would be some of our most desperate citizens. This would earn conservatives goodwill from voting blocs that may never before have seriously considered whether the Right’s limited government philosophy might best serve their interests. Once again, these political gains would not obligate conservatives to sacrifice any of their principles or current adherents. It would simply require extending the principles of limited government and individual liberty to a new policy area.

The conservative identity is undergoing its greatest existential test in modern memory, straining at the seams as it continues to apply 20th century policy solutions to 21st century problems. Its future viability will be assured only if it can rejuvenate itself, adapt, and then prove persuasive to a changing America. Criminal justice reform presents a strong opportunity to revitalize age-old conservative ideas on individual liberty and human dignity while delivering policy results that could attract a new class of party members.

Indeed, a string of successes over the last decade by early adopters of this new, justice-minded conservative identity have provided proof that criminal justice reform is a winning conservative issue. The ability of Republican-run states such as Texas to simultaneously lower their crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates has captured the attention of politicians eager to have concrete results to bring back to voters. Across some of our nation’s reddest states—Utah, for example, and Louisiana—new ideas on criminal justice matters have become an asset while overly punitive notions of justice are increasingly a liability. As criminal justice reform picks up steam in state capitals throughout the United States, conservatives are facing a choice: hop onboard and hope to guide reform or stand in its path and get run over.

In addition to its growing acceptance in the halls of power, criminal justice reform has also found a home within the conservative movement. Organizations such as the American Conservative Union and FreedomWorks have championed criminal justice matters and helped to marshal increasing support across the conservative spectrum. Further, some 68 percent of Republicans now believe that the criminal justice system is in need of reform. Even in a conservative state such as Texas, nine out of 10 Republican primary voters back measures such as increased job training for prisoners. It’s time for more conservative leaders to catch up with their constituents.

Conservatism has been too important for America for it to continue treading down a path that implies a lack of concern for minorities and the poor. It’s time for conservative holdouts to embrace a new, more vibrant, and sustainable identity. As an issue with large and growing public support that’s inherently consistent with existing conservative priorities and beliefs, criminal justice reform should be an integral part of this renewed idea of conservatism. Such a marriage between conservatives and reform would not only result in a better criminal justice system but would ensure that conservative ideas remain relevant for decades to come.

Arthur Rizer is the director for national security and criminal justice policy at the R Street Institute. He is also a former police officer, U.S. Army officer, and federal prosecutor. Lars Trautman is a senior fellow of criminal justice and national security policy at the R Street Institute. This article was supported by a grant from the R Street Institute.

38 Comments (Open | Close)

38 Comments To "Where the Right Went Wrong on Criminal Justice"

#1 Comment By john On July 5, 2018 @ 9:49 pm

I don’t understand how conservatives who “mistrust” the government to do anything right, suddenly develop huge amounts of trust in the government when it comes to the government depriving someone of their precious liberty.

#2 Comment By sglover On July 6, 2018 @ 1:33 am

Conservatives today struggle with a widespread public perception that their party, the GOP, represents primarily the rich and powerful—and that it caters primarily to white Americans.

Golly, how could that ever have happened?!?!?

Look, get real, your problem isn’t “perceptions”. Your problem is that your actions reveal what you really are! TAC’s own SS-sympathizing jefe, Buchanan, has spent his life building the all sadism, all the time coalition that’s now fully bloomed in the Age of Trump. You guys have been whistling Dixie my whole life, and for all the clucking in this article I doubt that you’re concerned about anything more than the next election. “Perceptions”, you know….

Republicans have proven that they’ll resort to every measure they can dream up to hinder American citizens (of a certain hue) from casting a ballot!! So you’re not even interested in civil society, in representative government. How is this not criminality? So whatever we’re calling “conservatism” this week, it’s not an ideology interested in “reform”. It’s not even interested in republicanism (lowercase ‘r’).

You want to talk about “criminal justice”, start there. Police your own shabby, cruel ranks. But you won’t.

#3 Comment By Deep Blue Washington On July 6, 2018 @ 3:05 am

I agree with alot of what you say in principle, but I’ve been a comissioned law enforcement officer for 13 years. We get calls for service, people want us to solve problems. I more or less have three options to solve problems, I can make an arrest, write a citation, or tell people to move along. Some people just won’t move along. Some people don’t show up to deal with citations, and get warrants. Often this is because they have mental health or addiction issues. As long as our society doesn’t fix these issues, incarceration is the only stopgap measure available. Saying that it just shouldn’t exist is like saying violence shouldn’t exist, God sure didn’t mean it to, but it does.

#4 Comment By Mia On July 6, 2018 @ 8:12 am

“Beyond the despicable treatment of Christ, however, are the lessons he gave on how those accused and those guilty of crimes should be treated. He recognized the “legality” of stoning an adulteress but nonetheless shamed the crowd by asking for the one who had not sinned to “cast the first stone.” This is an important lesson for conservatives—that the legality of punishment should not be the end of the inquiry of what is just.”

Let me point out an often unnoticed aspect to this Biblical passage. The original OT statute Jesus was referring to showed that it should have been applied to both the man and woman involved. Since she was caught in the act of adultery, this suggests the people who caught them took her but would have had to explictly have let the man she was with go. So there is also a very strong indication that part of the problem was that they were very selective about whom they punished, plus where was the man then? Could he have been in the crowd Jesus spoke to?

Anyway, for those of us who have been involved with and concerned about criminal justice reform for decades, you are spot on in this article. It’s all too rare that some of these issues come up in conservative circles, and it really is an urgent problem.

#5 Comment By Alex On July 6, 2018 @ 9:35 am

Reform may seem common sense when phrased in generalities, but it’s when you look closer that it becomes unpopular. Everyone wants to spend less money, but when we have to talk about letting this particular criminal go loose, it suddenly sounds like a not so great idea.

#6 Comment By Kevin V On July 6, 2018 @ 9:51 am

A good start to a discussion that needs to happen more and more. I did, however, have to point out the absurdity of this

“With millions of Americans churning through our jails and prisons every year, it is no exaggeration to say that more reasonable justice policies would save thousands of marriages and return even more children to two-parent households. This is an outcome that conservatives should cheer, and its promotion would only require a small extension of their deeply held family values.”

I’ve worked in the criminal justice field for many years, all of them in institutions with direct, daily contact with offenders. The idea that a non-trivial number of them are being yanked away from functional family systems as you describe here is just WRONG. The offenders I’ve worked with have anywhere from 1 to 5 “baby mamas” but have no involvement with any of them. They are not breadwinners, except when they show up to visit a “baby mama” and they might drop a few dollars so the woman will hook up with them at that moment. It’s a dismal, never-ending parade of underclass dysfunction.

#7 Comment By Roy Fassel On July 6, 2018 @ 10:16 am

The term “conservatism” needs to be redefined. It was “conservatism” that endorsed slavery. It was “conservatism” that endorsed separation of races and pecking orders of men over women. It was “progressives” who worked to undo the “conservatives” efforts. America would not be the nation it is today had it be controlled and ruled by “conservatives” since its foundation.

The general idea “that all men are created equal” was a progressive concept at the time.

#8 Comment By Jon On July 6, 2018 @ 10:38 am

A well argued blog and spot on. However we should not convert our streets into prisons as an alternative. A police state, for instance, not only warehouses individuals in a hidden-from-view cottage industry based system of incarceration but also imprisons those not in the Gulag by pitting neighbor against neighbor. We should be cautious that we do not do the same in the name of community activism that promotes greater but local regulation in the name of the decentralization of authority.

Most towns have a police force on top of which they elect a sheriff who then hires his deputies — an additional if superfluous layer of law enforcement. Many towns and neighborhoods have block watchers or auxiliary police (volunteer peace officers). While they keep a watchful eye on the commons, potentially their power or responsibility could widen especially in a climate of fear and uncertainty and abhorrence to the nonconformist or the one who in appearance is different.

We have already witnessed McCarthyism. Are we to reduce the incarceration rate through intimidation where neighbor is encouraged or even coerced to spy on neighbor not necessarily with the threat of arrest and thus incarceration but certainly with the threat of defamation and disgrace?

This might seem farfetched at this point in time. But caution is advised as we consider alternatives. We should not trade an extensive prison system — a veritable Gulag — for its wall-less equivalent. Instead we should reduce the incarceration rate, period!

Alas, we have seen a long march downward where wiggle room for individual eccentricities has all but disappeared in the political climate where the polity continually shout “there ought to be a law!” Instead, there is an eagerness to regulate individual human behavior the likes of which could eventually surpass Prohibition. Perhaps we are gradually trading our prisons and jails for the wall-less prison of the streets (our towns and neighborhoods).

#9 Comment By mrscracker On July 6, 2018 @ 10:38 am

I’d agree if you’re talking about non-violent crime. Most white collar crimes should be handled by restitution. Drug possession could be handled differently, too. Addicts need treatment more than incarceration.

But violent criminals for the most part I think still fall under “lock them up & throw the key away.”

It’s a shame because there are cases of real repentance & transformation, but the more probable scenario seems to be that they get out on parole or through plea bargaining & do it all over again. Or commit worse crimes.

I do feel sorry for violent criminals that are serving lengthy sentences. They are human beings, too. But I think our first responsibility is to society & keeping the innocent safe.

#10 Comment By paradoctor On July 6, 2018 @ 11:15 am

The inherent dignity of every human life? This from the party that elected Trump?

#11 Comment By AtomicZeppelinMan On July 6, 2018 @ 11:32 am

The real bedrock of conservatism is keeping minorities from voting. Drug laws were all about making rural whites feel safe at the ballot box.

#12 Comment By Kent On July 6, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

This doesn’t have to be so hard. Just legalize all drugs. Instead of spending money incarcerating drug dealers, spend the money helping people with their addictions.

In the days of Al Capone, crime was rampant because alcohol was banned. The same issue applies today with drugs.

I’m a conservative. I grew up in a family of cops. Almost all crime is a result addiction to illegal substances, family violence (often related), poverty (often related) or some form of sociopathy. But criminalizing drugs is the core issue. Probably 90% of all crime is a result of drugs. So just legalize them and show compassion for the addicted.

Portugal did just this. Crime and interestingly, addiction, have plummeted. And, in reality, it is truly the Christian thing to do.

#13 Comment By Rick Abrams On July 6, 2018 @ 1:09 pm

The right and the left have both jettisoned the inalienable rights of the individual in favor of Group Rights. The Right leans toward white Supremacy and the left leans towards everyone else. The Law and Order Movement was basically a racist attack in derogation of an individual’s inalienable right to Liberty. The Left pushed the Victimization Philosophy claiming to protect the minorities from the GOP.

Group Rights, Equality, and Identity Politics stand in opposition to individual inalienable rights just as today’s conservatives see no reason to treat people as individual human beings. As Trump said, when dealing with Mexicans we don’t need any judges or courts.

Neither the GOP nor the Dems have any intention of giving up their Group and to support individual inalienable rights as inalienable rights do not provide a basis to win elections.

#14 Comment By LouisM On July 6, 2018 @ 1:47 pm

The “incarceration nation” isn’t so much an insurmountably complex problem but it is a difficult policy problem. why?
1) A large number of incarcerates are psychologically and/or physically ill and need supervision but we don’t finance asylums and lifetime commitment to institutional care except in prisons…and the punishment for not taking prescription drugs is yes jail or prison so its a cycle that feeds on itself.
Solution: Bring back supervised halfway houses similar to senior citizens homes or halfway houses. A dorm room sized residence 10×10 with “x” staff to supervise medication and hygiene. Patients would be allowed to leave but would have curfew and could be arrested if they do not reliably return. These homes could be classified by level of violence or illness.

2) A large number of incarcerates are either illegal or legal immigrants.
Solution: Zero toleration for immigration status. If your illegal then your deported immediately. If your legal then your citizenship is automatically revoked and it shouldn’t matter whether it is a violent crime, an white collar crime like defrauding food stamps or welfare or any infraction. But you say not every country will repatriate their citizenry. It cost roughly $30,000 per year to incarcerate someone. Offer $10,000 to $30,000 to any nation willing to accept a US criminal and guarantee they will never return to the US.

THESE 2 CLASSES OF CRIMINALS MAKE UP MOST OF OUR INCARCERANTS. IF WE CAN TACKLE THE 50-80% OF INCARCERANTS THEN WE CAN TREAT THE REMAINING CRIMINALS MORE HUMANELY WHILE FOCUSING ON RECITIVISM AND REFORM.

#15 Comment By Tom On July 6, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

All research has shown that in order for us to dramatically reduce the prison population in the United States, we would have to get lenient on VIOLENT crime. Contrary to popular belief, drug offenders and other non-violent criminals make up just a tiny fraction of our prison population. Now, how likely is it that people will support probation and lighter sentences for murderers, rapists, armed robbers, kidnappers, carjackers, gangsters and batterers?

#16 Comment By Logan On July 6, 2018 @ 2:26 pm

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

#17 Comment By mattbernius On July 6, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

Tom wrote:
“Contrary to popular belief, drug offenders and other non-violent criminals make up just a tiny fraction of our prison population.”

This is simply and categorically not true on either the State or Federal Level. See the following site for actual statistics on this:

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The reality is a significant portion of our prison population, at least half is made up by non-violent offenders, often locked into long stays due to mandatory minimum policies.

Further, our jails are increasingly filled by individuals without convictions who simply cannot afford to pay bail while they await trial (which ends up costing tax payers significant sums).

#18 Comment By One Guy On July 6, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

I would rather read articles like this, that talk about what Conservatives can do right, than ones that only criticize the other guys-especially when the “other guys” are one crazy person that is held up as typical when he isn’t.

If Conservatives would demonstrate why Conservatism is better for America, than whine about some Dem lady that lost the last presidential election two years ago, we’d be more successful, imho.

#19 Comment By JeffK On July 6, 2018 @ 3:27 pm

@Kent says:
July 6, 2018 at 1:09 pm

This doesn’t have to be so hard. Just legalize all drugs. Instead of spending money incarcerating drug dealers, spend the money helping people with their addictions….

I’m a conservative. I grew up in a family of cops. Almost all crime is a result addiction to illegal substances, family violence (often related), poverty (often related) or some form of sociopathy. But criminalizing drugs is the core issue. Probably 90% of all crime is a result of drugs. So just legalize them and show compassion for the addicted.

Portugal did just this. Crime and interestingly, addiction, have plummeted. And, in reality, it is truly the Christian thing to do.”

Truer words never spoken. A Guardian article that describes decriminalization in Portugal and it’s positive results. I suspect many ‘Conservatives’ won’t bother to read it since it doesn’t align with their world view.

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#20 Comment By dvxprime On July 6, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

“…but at the cost of a society in which a third of working-age Americans have criminal records and more than 10 million people go to jail each year. The fact that the United States, with nearly 2.2 million Americans behind bars, incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation is not a point of pride.”

Has it EVER occurred to ANYBODY that all of these people have criminal records and/or are in jail is because they made very poor personal choices in breaking the law?

“Communities of color, after all, are affected disproportionately by the current criminal justice system. African Americans and Hispanics together represent nearly 60 percent of the individuals incarcerated but only about 30 percent of the U.S. population.”

Black and Hispanic people KNOW that they will get stiffer sentences than whites for committing the same crimes, yet they continue to make those same poor personal choices that land them in jail.

Comedian Chris Rock produced a short sketch on his HBO show called “How Not to Get Your A** Beat By The Police.” It was written to draw laughs, but there is some truth to it…especially that first step:

[4]

I’m not sayin’…I’m just sayin’…

#21 Comment By I Don’t Matter On July 6, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

Classic LuisM:
1. make up a bunch of bogus claims without a shred of support.
2. Propose a “solution” that is neither possible nor addresses any real-world issues.
3. Use ALL CAPS to make sure everyone understands how correct he is

For all the liberal commenters lambasting the GOP: sure, you may be right, but why not welcome the change of heart here? Would you rather be correctly smugly telling conservatives off, or welcome them as allies on a very important issue?

All those saying how easy it is to stay out of jail by not committing any crimes, hope you are really familiar with all relevant penal codes so you know you have never ever broken any laws. God forbid you ever get falsely accused of a crime, I’m sure this never happens to such upstanding citizens as your good selves.

#22 Comment By Anonymous On July 6, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

LouisM proposes deporting any naturalized citizen who commits any crime. Why not extend this practice to natural born citizens too? The Qataris and Emiratis always seem to be in need of slaves.

#23 Comment By Tom On July 6, 2018 @ 7:06 pm

Mattbernius:

That’s not really true. Dramatically reducing the prison population requires letting violent inmates go free:

[5]

JeffK:

No, legalizing drugs does not solve the prison problem. The above article applies to you too.

By the way, California legalized marijuana with Prop 64 and mandates that all drug offenders get treatment with Prop 38, an initiative passed by voters all the way back in 2000. Along with Prop 47, which essentially decriminalized most non-violent crimes down to misdemeanors, the prison population in California is still at 150% of capacity!

#24 Comment By tz On July 6, 2018 @ 7:25 pm

Mother Jones has documented the bail industrial complex which is glossed over here. Then there’s the “three felonies a day” law that no conservative maybe except Rand Paul would stop complexity the shatters the rule of law.

Prison should be hard for those who are incorrigable and deserve it. Christ notes some will end in hell.

But we send many to hellish prisons for trivia. GITMO (not addressed here!!!).

You don’t even mention what Muller has done.

Beyond treason and piracy there should be few if any federal crimes and the States should be circumspect.

But you dont address that.

#25 Comment By Dakarian On July 7, 2018 @ 12:31 am

Deep Blue Washington says:

“We get calls for service, people want us to solve problems. I more or less have three options to solve problems, I can make an arrest, write a citation, or tell people to move along….As long as our society doesn’t fix these issues, incarceration is the only stopgap measure available. Saying that it just shouldn’t exist is like saying violence shouldn’t exist, God sure didn’t mean it to, but it does.”

That reminds me of an assembly over a year ago done by the Dallas police chief in 2016, where he said something that’s related to what you bring up.

“Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.””

I think this is the key issue. As you say, cops are a hammer (or a gun) and can handle issues in a few select ways. And far too many problems are falling to their feet. This goes back to the main article at hand as these ‘war on X’ are all basically “problem with X, send the cops”.

Put it all together and it shows that the issue isn’t so much the cops but what we are demanding of them. Instead of relying on cops to fix everything with blind loyalty or tearing them down at every turn, we should be leaning towards not having to rely on them. Find methods to solve problems that isn’t incarceration. Items like this and many others show that such systems do work. They cost less, result in fewer freedoms taken away (by both the government or criminals), evokes less governmental control or oppression.

And lets the cops focus on the far far fewer situations where nothing beyond a warning or arrest will solve the matter.

#26 Comment By Richter rox On July 7, 2018 @ 6:27 am

This whole article and all of its well reasoned points quickly goes out the window when you live in a diverse high crime part of town .
Two minorites put knives to my son and his friends throats demanding their phones when stepping off puplic transportation, forget their voting rights I wanted those criminals dead.

Typical article written by someone with zero experience of what they profess detailed knowledge of,

#27 Comment By Tancred On July 7, 2018 @ 7:07 am

Jon says:
July 6, 2018 at 10:38 am

“Alas, we have seen a long march downward where wiggle room for individual eccentricities has all but disappeared in the political climate where the polity continually shout “there ought to be a law!” Instead, there is an eagerness to regulate individual human behavior the likes of which could eventually surpass Prohibition. Perhaps we are gradually trading our prisons and jails for the wall-less prison of the streets (our towns and neighborhoods).”

I have noticed this trend too and I find it worrisome. One of the things that I fear is that with everyone having a camera phone/video recorder these days people are making themselves into self-appointed police officers/investigative journalists. You can see this in the frequency of incidents of “outrage porn” on social media where someone does something unusual and it is broadcasted all over the Internet. The rise of doxxing and other attempts to attack people via the Internet seems like a huge boon for any possible police state. Technology is a big part of the problem but it doesn’t get mentioned much because criticizing tech outside of lame “its just a tool” arguments is taboo in our society.

#28 Comment By Thaomas On July 7, 2018 @ 10:40 am

The “War on Drugs” and the “War on Crime” was never anything but a ploy to wrong-foot Liberals. Proponents were not all racists, but did not worry much about who would suffer most.

#29 Comment By Jeff archibeque On July 7, 2018 @ 11:48 am

There is no mention of commercialized prisons in this article(they became popular again with the “War On Drugs” in the 80’s). We live in a country that makes money from crime(CXW-NYSE), do you think these companies/investors want their prisons empty? In fact they have contracts with states for a minimum amount of prisoners, as in keep them full.

#30 Comment By M_Young On July 7, 2018 @ 3:42 pm

The trouble with these ‘we gotta do something to attract POCS for the sake of conservatism’ articles is that POCS aren’t attracted to ‘limited government’ conservatism in any sense, except maybe the ‘let us smoke weed’ sense. The data are out there in polling, the data are out there in the voting records of POC politicians.

So no, legalizing drugs isn’t gonna make ‘conservatives’ out of significant numbers of POCs. Nor is undoing a quite frankly successful conservatives policy — increased incarceration is responsible for some of the drop in crime over the last two decades.

No, the only ‘conservative, limited goverenment’ people in the US are white. Better that ‘limited government’ conservatives recognize that and work to reverse Democrat designed demographic shift.

#31 Comment By Bob On July 7, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

Please explain how California which passed the 3 Strikes laws and more than 1,000 crime and crime enhancement laws and has been run by Democrats with huge majorities, fits this article’s concept?

#32 Comment By Cosmin Visan On July 7, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

1. Legalize drugs (like Portugal)
2. Don’t lock nonviolent offenders in jail if they don’t have money for bond.
3. Offer help to mentally ill people.
4. No mandatory sentencing.
5. No private prisons (creates incentive to have prisoners).
6. Have temporary detention that does not lead to jail or a citation… just holding people who have disturbed the peace.
7. Community sentencing (non-prison). For certain low-level offences have the community distribute non-jail punishments by citizen juries supervised by a magistrate.
8. Beat cops. Stop this heavily armed and militarized approach to policing.

#33 Comment By Reader On July 9, 2018 @ 8:52 am

The US should start by repealing what I call the “Police, Prosecutors, Judges and Jailers Full Employment Act,” otherwise known as the War on Drugs. This “war” has ruined the lives of millions of people and vastly expanded to powers of government. It has been an abject failure when measured against the stated goals. It has caused more crime.

This nation used to have a “War On Alcohol” called Prohibition. That, too, was an abject failure. It too gave rise to violent gangs, increased crime, police and political corruption, etc., etc.

End the drug war. Treat drug abuse as a vice (as it used to be considered) instead of a crime.

Here, by the way, are the words of Nixon aide John Ehrlichmann. Nixon launched the drug war 47 years ago:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

That quote was published in the April 2016 issue of Harper’s magazine: [6]

#34 Comment By Publius On July 9, 2018 @ 11:21 am

AtomicZeppelinMan says: July 6, 2018 at 11:32 am

“The real bedrock of conservatism is keeping minorities from voting. Drug laws were all about making rural whites feel safe at the ballot box.”

This assertion is demonstrably untrue. It is a lie glibly used to hide the guilt of the American Democratic Party.

It was the Democrats who tirelessly worked to steal minorities’ land (Native Americans) and labor (enslavement of African-Americans). After forcible manumission caused by Republican efforts in the Civil War, Democrats continued their efforts to deprive minorities of their political and economic rights. Jim Crowe, “Separate But Equal”, the KKK, etc – all Democrat from top to bottom. It was again Republicans who worked hard to stop these efforts.

#35 Comment By Zgler On July 9, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

“If your legal then your citizenship is automatically revoked and it shouldn’t matter whether it is a violent crime, an white collar crime like defrauding food stamps or welfare or any infraction.”

Parking violations anyone?

#36 Comment By Zgler On July 9, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

“No, the only ‘conservative, limited goverenment’ people in the US are white. Better that ‘limited government’ conservatives recognize that and work to reverse Democrat designed demographic shift.”

Hmmm… How are you going to convince the largely Catholic Latino citizenry to have fewer children? I don’t think that will work. You can try to prevent people from voting or gerrymander like crazy. That’s working already.

#37 Comment By mattbernius On July 10, 2018 @ 9:09 am

Tom wrote:

“Mattbernius:

That’s not really true. Dramatically reducing the prison population requires letting violent inmates go free:”

First, I was responding to the comment that “Contrary to popular belief, drug offenders and other non-violent criminals make up just a tiny fraction of our prison population.”

The chart in the article you link also demonstrates that this simply isn’t the case. Only 52.6% of the prison population is convicted of violent offenses.

So simply looking at non-violent, which goes beyond drug crimes, can assist with reducing prison population.

You are correct however that we also need to address violent crime in this formula.

That also requires us to start to clearly examine how over the last three decades we have increased what counts as violent crime. This includes many states decisions to do things like:

– charge accessories with violent crimes regardless if they directly participated in the violent act. For example a get away driver being charged with murder even though he was in the car the entire time.

– drug related murder charges (which are all the rage at the moment) — i.e. if you deal drugs or share drugs and the person dies from an O.D., you are charged with murder.

But your larger point leads to the real challenge with prison reform — and the topic of the article — our obsession as a society with “punish” and how that easily fits into certain narratives about “lock them up and throw away the key.”

#38 Comment By mattbernius On July 10, 2018 @ 9:18 am

I should also note that a key aspect of reducing the size of prisons is also to move away from a system that incentivizes using charge stacking and mandatory minimums to force plea bargains rather than trials that would actually test the state’s evidence.

This approach creates a perverse incentive for people to plead guilty in order to simply get on with their lives (especially in areas with cash bail).