November 21, 2012

The conservative reversal on prisons

David Dagan and Steven M. Teles, Washington Monthly - American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states...

Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”

None of Gingrich’s rivals in the vicious Republican presidential primary exploited these statements. If anything, his position is approaching party orthodoxy. The 2012 Republican platform declares, “Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.” What’s more, a rogue’s gallery of conservative crime warriors have joined Gingrich’s call for Americans to rethink their incarceration reflex. They include Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, William Bennett—even the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. Most importantly, more than a dozen states have launched serious criminal justice reform efforts in recent years, with conservatives often in the lead.

Skeptics might conclude that conservatives are only rethinking criminal justice because lockups have become too expensive. But whether prison costs too much depends on what you think of incarceration’s benefits. Change is coming to criminal justice because an alliance of evangelicals and libertarians have put those benefits on trial. Discovering that the nation’s prison growth is morally objectionable by their own, conservative standards, they are beginning to attack it—and may succeed where liberals, working the issue on their own, have, so far, failed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember when the hot tip was privatization of jails & prisons? It defied logic that a corporation could turn a profit while managing a city or county lockup for less money than a non-profit branch of government could, but that was the pitch.

Oh yeah, they'd use modern, streamlined methods to eliminate waste and inefficiency. Not only could a jail run for less, but it could become a better jail in the process! That would be a win-win for everyone, wouldn't it?

Until we found out that when you charge by the inmate per day and make a habit of delaying an end of sentence release you can charge an extra day... Or gin up some alleged infraction that gets an inmate an extra week in lockup... Or hire the absolute bottom of the barrel and call them guards so that when someone has an epileptic seizure they have no clue what happened until the autopsy.

Never was a good idea for neo-cons to set social policy, especially when it comes to punishment and rehabilitation. They're strong on the former but tone deaf on the latter.

Unless it's a drug issue with a well-known radio talk show host gone deaf. They can buy all the counseling they need with no threat of incarceration because, well because they don't look like a criminal. You know... "Ghetto".

As for the rest of us? Not so much... Cop drops a gun or a dime bag on you and you're off the streets for a while. And if the cop does it right they get an atta'boy for the clean bust....

God Bless America and Check Book Justice!