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Criminal Justice Reform: A New Domain of the Right?

"It's not simply to extract retribution. It's to provide a safer society. And to treat people humanely," says former NRA chief.

Bill Straub


May 26, 2014 - 12:55 am
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WASHINGTON – Some prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Ed Meese and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are getting behind a movement to slash the nation’s prison costs by offering alternative punishments for non-violent offenders.

Right on Crime, an organization founded by the conservative Texas Public Policy foundation, met in Washington last week to exchange ideas on ways to reform what supporters maintain is an inefficient criminal justice system.

While the U.S. has only about five percent of the world’s population it has 25 percent of the globe’s prison population, owing in large part to policies implemented in the 1960s and 1970s that instituted often heavy sentences for non-violent drug offenders. As a result, corrections spending is now the second-fastest growing area of state budgets behind Medicaid.

Prisons, Right on Crime asserts, “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 non-violent, low-risk offenders – making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered.”

In a “call to action” released at last week’s session, Right on Crime further declared that prisons serve a critical role in society “but we can’t just build our way to public safety.”

“Low-level non-violent drug and property offenders can often be punished and held accountable in ways that aren’t as expensive as prison but that are more effective in helping them become law-abiding taxpayers rather than tax burdens,” the group said.

Conservatives “have often looked the other way regarding the growing cost and declining public safety benefits of a prison system that locks nearly one in every 100 American adults behind bars,” the group determined. “In our earnest desire to have safer neighborhoods, policy responses to crime have too often neglected core conservative values — government accountability, personal responsibility, family preservation, victim restoration, fiscal discipline, limited government and free enterprise.”

“Everybody forgot what the mission in our society of the criminal justice system is,” said David Keene, former president of the National Rifle Association and chairman of the American Conservative Union. “It’s not simply to punish people. It’s not simply to extract retribution. It’s to provide a safer society. And to treat people humanely.”

Meese, who served as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, said he has been looking at prison reform “for probably 50 years” and that conservatives are making some progress in determining “what works and doesn’t work.”

Conservatives, Meese said, should get involved in the campaign because “number one, they want to reduce crime, number two they’re interested in people, including rehabilitating people and making constructive citizens to the extent possible out of those who violated society’s rules.”

“We’re looking for a few ideas to do a better job to reduce crime,” he said.

Gingrich and others argued that the idea is to reduce prison costs while simultaneously bolstering public safety. The former Republican lawmaker from Georgia noted that New York City spends $168,000 a year for each prisoner housed at Riker’s Island. For that amount, he said, the prisoner could get a three-year education at Harvard. And they have an 80 percent chance of returning to prison once released.

The key, Gingrich said, is “separating out the truly violent criminals you need to just keep locked up and recognizing there are an awful lot of folks you would like to have make one mistake one time and then get reintegrated back into a productive society.”

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All Comments   (12)
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Whose Destroying us? The DOJ with Assumed Powers and the Judicial Branch being self governing and un-accountable to the people, Political party's riddled with lawyers that are part of the same BAR ASSOCIATION that the judges and their co conspirator are member or benefit from it's elevation. STOP SUPPORTING CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS THE ARE NOT IN OUR BEST INTEREST!!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I will give Meese and Gingrich a pass on this if what they mean by non violent crime is a casual drug user who got busted BUT: as mentioned by other posters, you gotta be arrested a lot for this sort of thing, or flunk out of one of the diversion programs or violate probation before you see any time in the pokey. Burglary and vandalism and a lot of other "non violent" crimes cause a lot of heart ache and loss. My guess is that for each arrest, there have been, what? ten offenses. Look, if this (Gingrich and Meese) is the best the Republicans have to offer, well... we are in Deep DooDoo!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
While any circumstance is possible in a country as large as the United States, I can tell you from experience that convicted criminal felons have to “work hard’ to actually get prison time. The exception is the most violent crimes of murder, rape, maiming, and armed robbery. Those will get you locked up as they should.

As far as how we Americans stack up to other country’s incarceration rates; I could care less. Many of those comparisons cited actually under-report, obfuscate by differing classifications, or conduct outright executions. I guess if you are dead you don’t count as part of the prison population. The United States rates can be improved, but they are not at the purported crisis level our politicians and other agenda groups claim.

But your average thief, home burglar, drug dealer, drug user, wife beater and all around a$$hole, and all “white collar type crimes,” such as check fraud, credit card fraud, and so forth will get you repeated finger wagging by the judge. If the judge really, really means it “this time,’ you might see a slap on the wrist-get thee gone-and sin no more; that is, until the next time.

As an example, a 19 year old committed over 40 home burglaries. These were offenses the police and the prosecutor had no trouble proving in court due to the overwhelming amount of evidence, to include recovered stolen property in the criminal’s possession. I have hundreds of such examples.

The law in that state read that a person convicted of home burglary should receive up to 20 years in the penitentiary for each offense. The state’s sentencing guidelines that the prosecutor and the court had to follow (or the judge had to write a special letter explaining why he deviated from them) recommended a sentence of 5 years, all suspended except for 6 months in local jail. Oh yeah, the sentencing guidelines only counted convictions up to the first three. After that, the other 37 burglary crimes did not count.

Since this was the offender’s first time before the court, this is what was imposed. By the time the case came before the court, the offender was basically released on time already served. Now you might say that the sentencing guidelines get harsher if the same offender comes back to court on another set of burglary charges or other crimes.
The short answer is that they do, after about the 6th or 7th time at bat (for home burglary).

In the meantime, how many more citizens have to become victims of just this one individual’s crime spree? Very few change their ways. Recidivism is very high, especially if substance abuse is involved.
Everyone that I have met that has had their home or apartment broken into, had their property ransacked through and had their valuables and irreplaceable items stolen and squandered (most never returned), feel as though they have been personally raped. Victims rarely feel safe in their own homes again. They usually wind up moving away.

Then there is the fact that almost one third of federal inmates are illegal aliens. This figure is similarly high in many southern Border States and urban population centers. It begs the question about what our approach to this issue is when we tolerate a criminal justice system that provides repeated bites of the apple to recidivist criminals and to house and care for criminal aliens at taxpayer expense.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
The wonderful writer Daniel Greenfield has a great column on this today at Front Page Magazine.

Here's an excerpt: 

"Violent crime rates in the US have dropped sharply because increased prison sentences took career criminals off the street. Average time served for violent criminals increased by 37%. The $10 billion cost criticized by the pro-criminal lobby was modest compared to the savings in human lives and budgets when the murder rate was nearly cut in half.

There were 20,000 fewer rapes, 300,000 fewer aggravated assaults and 270,000 fewer robberies."

It also clearly outs the hypocrisy and agenda of the Left on this issue.  Give it a read:
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am sick to death of the $-to-house-these-poor-non-violent-offenders arguments. I've been hearing them since I was a kid (born '51). Why the overwhelming drop in crime rates we've seen in the last two decades? Prison time for criminals. Mandatory sentencing laws. More $ to police.

Build more prisons and jails. Privatize some. Ship *ALL, ALL* incarcerated illegals back across the border, preferably DEEP into their own countries. Let their own governments pick up the tab. SECURE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER WITH ARMED TROOPS!

And quit listening to newly-squishy men like Gingrich, et al.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm somewhat skeptical especially the "property crimes" comment. Someone who breaks into your home or business and steals your property most likely has doing the same to other victims and either not been caught or gotten a mild punishment for what he/she did. Sure it's not "violent" but tell that to someone who's lost their computer and their family heirlooms to a scumbag burglar. By the time they break in they're too far gone - lock 'em up!
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I vote Libertarian, but one of the areas we need to keep the sole domain of government is the prison system. 1) Private (for profit) prisons HAVE TO GO. Incentivizing incarceration...have we gone mad?? 2) We need to take a hard look a the powerful Prison Guard union, who wants...what else, MORE Prison Guards, which of course means more prisons. 3) We need to STOP demonizing marijuana & just legalize, regulate & tax it like CO has done. Part of the tax money could go into treatment programs to help crack/meth/heroin addicts. 4) Stop incarcerating small time dealers of a lb. or so of weed...these are not drug cartel members, (send them to BudTender school) so they can get legal when we FINALLY abolish "Prohibition 2.0" (drug laws). 5) IF we are going to SENSIBLY reform the prison system, we also need to take a hard look "downstream" & reform the "Juvey" court/incarceration system, the foster care system & the family court system. Offenders don't spontaneously appear at age 18 or 21...they are usually "brewing" at a much earlier age.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
What are the types of alternative 'punishments' suggested by Right On Crime? It's one thing to call for reform and another to implement reform. Will letting a criminal off 'easy' lead him to a better life or convince him he has nothing to fear from the law and encourage him to pursue further criminal activity?

Just wondering, if what we are getting are 'words, just words.'
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
I would look at the TX model. Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working. However, this is solely about non-violent offenders. When it comes to violent offenders, there has to be a COMPLETELY different set of rules. RE: Violent offenders...I would not underestimate the strong 2nd Amendment protections in TX. If a potential offender even THINKS "that person MIGHT be able to defend themselves", that alone is a valuable deterrent.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Send illegal alien federal prisoners back to their own countries, and even pay for them to be incarceratd there, to ensure they actually stay locked up and not simply released by whatever corrupt 3rd World government they belong to. We'll still be spending money, but it'll be a small fraction of what it costs to house a prisoner here.
A grotesquely disproportionate number of US federal prisoners are illegal aliens.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
There remains a group that is non-violent but deserve their inconvenience and loss of freedom. People like Corzine.

Certainly, the war on drugs policies were failures in many ways and simple users shouldn't have been locked up. Reversing that might win some of the black and youth vote over to the GOP without losing too many conservatives.
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
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