Richard Viguerie had an outstanding op-ed yesterday in the New York Times on the conservative case for prison reform.

An excerpt:

Conservatives known for being tough on crime should now be equally tough on failed, too-expensive criminal programs. They should demand more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety and the well-being of all Americans. …

In the past several years, there has been a dramatic shift on crime and punishment policy across the country. It really started in Texas in 2007. The state said no to building eight more prisons and began to shift nonviolent offenders from state prison into alternatives, by strengthening probation and parole supervision and treatment. Texas was able to avert nearly $2 billion in projected corrections spending increases, and its crime rate is declining. At the same time, the state’s parole failures have dropped by 39 percent. …

By confronting this issue head on, conservatives are showing that our principles lead to practical solutions that make government less costly and more effective. We need to do more of that.

Viguerie is exactly right here, and he offers a template for talking about policy that all conservatives, not just the fledgling reform movement, can agree on. “Compassion” doesn’t have to mean spending more money; it can mean saving money (which, to be sure, often means the elimination of waste-driven jobs). Getting government “out of the way” is not the end of the conversation; local governments and communities may have to remain “in the way.” Liberals don’t—or shouldn’t—have a monopoly on ideas that materially improve people’s lives.

And here’s the kicker: It’s okay for politicians to promise to improve people’s lives—especially the unfortunate and disadvantaged.

Here’s hoping more conservatives will follow Viguerie’s lead and begin to apply this template to issues like healthcare and tax reform.