Right on Crime: It is High Time for Conservative Justice Reform

When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831, he had been sent by the French government to investigate and report on the American prison system.  In the United States, strong Christian values and experimental tendencies had led independent thinkers to break with Old World norms and introduce a host of radical ideas on justice, the most successful among them being the idea that the main function of imprisonment is not punishment, but reform.

Today, with rocketing prison costs, massive numbers of incarcerated citizens, police forces pushed to the brink, and a public that still does not feel safe, it is high time we remember that the fresh and effective ideas of American justice were once the envy of the world.

That is why conservative leaders such as Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, and Edwin Meese have joined with a host of others in launching Right On Crime (ROC) -- an organization with the goal of breaking the political trend and taking a conservative approach to reforming America's broken justice system.

Conservatism Holds the Answer

Whether one is a Tea Partier angry over unaccountability, 50% recidivism, and skyrocketing budgets or a social activist concerned over the safety of the community and the over-criminalization of our lives, the system is broken, and the means for fixing it exist directly within our philosophy.

Without attention from conservatives and application of conservative principles, the criminal justice system, like any government program, twists in the wind of bad judgment.  Therefore, it is incumbent on us conservatives, especially those guided by our religious faiths, to ensure that criminal judgments are not only tough, but also just, and that those who commit crimes do not leave the criminal justice system worse than when they went in.

Spearheaded by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), ROC is bringing the right's principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and individual liberty to the table and focusing its efforts on increased public safety, better transparency, greater accountability, and cuts to wasteful spending.

With a conservative approach to the branded liberal issue of justice reform, proponents aim to end the sacred-cow stigma surrounding the debate and get past what Prison Fellowship Vice President Pat Nolan calls the left's and right's pre-recorded sound bites, which have dominated the "debate" over the past several decades.

Fixing What Is Wrong with What Is Right

The administration of justice is one of the few legitimate functions of government, says Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, "so conservatives ought to go and get those things right as well as focusing on what government ought not to do at all[.] ... We haven't looked at prisons with the same jaundiced eye that we look at other issues with."

Currently, state spending to build and support prisons is seconded only by spending on Medicaid.  And with a 50% recidivism rate of released prisoners (44.1% within one year, 67.5% within three), Nolan asks, "What private company would stay in business with a 50% failure rate?"  That this is tolerated in most states across the Union is incredible.

TPPF's and ROC's approaches are, surprisingly, based on reforms done in Texas -- a state famous for its uncompromising approach to crime.  There, conservatives have pursued a shift in focus to community-based corrections for nonviolent offenders.  This shift has been coupled with a shift from allocating funds based on prison populations to allocating based on prison output.  The result, over the past five years, has been a 9% drop in crime and the saving of the $2 billion in prison construction an unaltered crime rate would have demanded.

"Both parties squared off in the '60s and '70s," says Nolan, a prominent California conservative whose 25-month stint in federal prison pushed him to launch a ministry for helping inmates.  "This is a not a liberal issue, holding prisons accountable for results: for public safety, for budgets, for turning around lives."

The right has missed the bus in the past -- it's high time we apply to our justice system the same standards we work to hold the rest of our government to.  With the launch of Right On Crime, the groundwork has been laid.

In an echo of the closing words of the 1960 Sharon Statement -- the founding document of the original conservative activist group, Young Americans for Freedom -- David Keene posed this challenge to the host of reporters covering ROC's launch: "Every prison policy and practice ought to be judged by the following criterion -- does it make the public safer or not?"

Christopher Bedford is the editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com and executive editor of Young Americans for Freedom's official magazine, The New Guard.  He is vice-chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and lives in Washington, D.C.
When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831, he had been sent by the French government to investigate and report on the American prison system.  In the United States, strong Christian values and experimental tendencies had led independent thinkers to break with Old World norms and introduce a host of radical ideas on justice, the most successful among them being the idea that the main function of imprisonment is not punishment, but reform.

Today, with rocketing prison costs, massive numbers of incarcerated citizens, police forces pushed to the brink, and a public that still does not feel safe, it is high time we remember that the fresh and effective ideas of American justice were once the envy of the world.

That is why conservative leaders such as Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, and Edwin Meese have joined with a host of others in launching Right On Crime (ROC) -- an organization with the goal of breaking the political trend and taking a conservative approach to reforming America's broken justice system.

Conservatism Holds the Answer

Whether one is a Tea Partier angry over unaccountability, 50% recidivism, and skyrocketing budgets or a social activist concerned over the safety of the community and the over-criminalization of our lives, the system is broken, and the means for fixing it exist directly within our philosophy.

Without attention from conservatives and application of conservative principles, the criminal justice system, like any government program, twists in the wind of bad judgment.  Therefore, it is incumbent on us conservatives, especially those guided by our religious faiths, to ensure that criminal judgments are not only tough, but also just, and that those who commit crimes do not leave the criminal justice system worse than when they went in.

Spearheaded by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), ROC is bringing the right's principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and individual liberty to the table and focusing its efforts on increased public safety, better transparency, greater accountability, and cuts to wasteful spending.

With a conservative approach to the branded liberal issue of justice reform, proponents aim to end the sacred-cow stigma surrounding the debate and get past what Prison Fellowship Vice President Pat Nolan calls the left's and right's pre-recorded sound bites, which have dominated the "debate" over the past several decades.

Fixing What Is Wrong with What Is Right

The administration of justice is one of the few legitimate functions of government, says Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, "so conservatives ought to go and get those things right as well as focusing on what government ought not to do at all[.] ... We haven't looked at prisons with the same jaundiced eye that we look at other issues with."

Currently, state spending to build and support prisons is seconded only by spending on Medicaid.  And with a 50% recidivism rate of released prisoners (44.1% within one year, 67.5% within three), Nolan asks, "What private company would stay in business with a 50% failure rate?"  That this is tolerated in most states across the Union is incredible.

TPPF's and ROC's approaches are, surprisingly, based on reforms done in Texas -- a state famous for its uncompromising approach to crime.  There, conservatives have pursued a shift in focus to community-based corrections for nonviolent offenders.  This shift has been coupled with a shift from allocating funds based on prison populations to allocating based on prison output.  The result, over the past five years, has been a 9% drop in crime and the saving of the $2 billion in prison construction an unaltered crime rate would have demanded.

"Both parties squared off in the '60s and '70s," says Nolan, a prominent California conservative whose 25-month stint in federal prison pushed him to launch a ministry for helping inmates.  "This is a not a liberal issue, holding prisons accountable for results: for public safety, for budgets, for turning around lives."

The right has missed the bus in the past -- it's high time we apply to our justice system the same standards we work to hold the rest of our government to.  With the launch of Right On Crime, the groundwork has been laid.

In an echo of the closing words of the 1960 Sharon Statement -- the founding document of the original conservative activist group, Young Americans for Freedom -- David Keene posed this challenge to the host of reporters covering ROC's launch: "Every prison policy and practice ought to be judged by the following criterion -- does it make the public safer or not?"

Christopher Bedford is the editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com and executive editor of Young Americans for Freedom's official magazine, The New Guard.  He is vice-chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and lives in Washington, D.C.

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