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Perry to CPAC: ‘Real Conservative Governance’ Includes Vow to ‘Shut Prisons Down’

“There aren’t many things that the president of the United States and his attorney general and I agree about – you know what I mean?”

by
Rodrigo Sermeño

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March 11, 2014 - 12:05 am
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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared alongside other conservatives on a panel at CPAC Friday where they laid out their vision for criminal-justice reform.

The panelists framed the issue in conservative terms: a smaller role of big government in the criminal-justice system, the fiscal responsibility of reduced prison sentences, and the Christian belief of redemption.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said this is an issue where conservatives have led in the nation.

“The establishment press wouldn’t expect to hear a discussion on criminal-justice reform at CPAC,” Norquist said. “Our friends on the left have zero credibility when it comes to reducing criminal activity and punishing people who deserved to be punished.”

Norquist, an advocate for criminal-justice reform, said he has testified before several state legislatures about the issue.

“If these ideas hadn’t started in Texas, it would be a lot harder to sell them,” he said. “If I walked in and said, ‘this is a really good idea they did in Vermont’ – they would laugh at you, even if it was a good idea. Only coming from the right can serious criminal justice that saves taxpayers’ money and saves American lives happen.”

Other prominent Republicans that once supported tough-on-crime stances have also embraced criminal-justice reform. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, and Norquist, to name a few, have all spoken in favor of reforming the criminal-justice system. Newt Gingrich, who as a representative in the early 1990s vowed to put more Americans behind bars, now says the U.S. criminal-justice system is broken and the nation can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has made reform of mandatory minimum sentences a priority in recent months.

Perry talked about unnecessarily punitive mandatory minimum sentences and the advantages of drug courts that send addicts into treatment instead of the prison system.

“You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money,” Perry said. “Stop the recidivism rates – lower them. That’s what can happen with these drug courts.”

Perry and other Republican governors have supported tough-on-crime platforms in the last decade that have led the country on issues like sentencing reform and prison recidivism. States like Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas are spending less money on keeping people behind bars and instead focusing resources on preparing offenders to reenter society successfully.

During Perry’s time as governor, Texas has become both the nation’s leading innovator on reform for nonviolent offenders and the top user of the death penalty in the U.S.

“If you wanna go and murder somebody, Texas might not be the place you wanna go do that,” Perry said. “We’re not a soft-on-crime state, but I hope we are also seen as a smart-on-crime state.”

Texas’ prison capacity is at 96 percent. In 2011, Texas closed a prison because it could not be filled thanks to the declining incarceration rate.

“There aren’t many things that the president of the United States and his attorney general and I agree about – you know what I mean?” he said. “But President Obama and Attorney General Holder both pointed to Texas and what we’re doing with our drug courts and our recidivism rates, and our prison systems. …The crime rate in Texas is as low as it’s been since 1967.”

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Top Rated Comments   
It would be useful if some particulars were given. It always seemed to me that the one thing that works is the Federal system of mandatory sentences.

One place I am a "bleeding heart" is on prison safely. If the government is to fulfill its most basic responsibilities of defense and criminal justice, then it has an absolute obligation to protect the well-being of those it has incarcerated, no matter what they have done. Period.

BTW, inequities in the death penalty would be mostly done away with if we could get the horrific Supreme Court decision limiting the death penalty overridden. If 90% of first-degree murderers with sufficient evidence (turning state's evidence is testimony by extortion) were executed, there would be a lot fewer inequities. For that matter, nothing in the Constitution limits the death penalty to murder.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (25)
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Firing squads? That will reduce the numbers.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think that differentiating between violent offenders/sexual offenders and everything else is a good start. Job training programs seem to do good for nonviolent/nonpredatory offenders.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Prisons are big business. The mandatory minimums, or sentencing guidelines, give prosecutors incredible leverage. Less than 10% of indicted defendants ever go to a jury of their peers. We have to stop throwing sick people away. Drug courts are a good first step. I'd argue that forced treatment in mental health facilities should also be an option. If someone is completely incapable of caring for the self because of addiction or mental illness, we should force them into treatment. Decriminalize drug use, legalize pot and prostitution but give families and the State the ability to force sick people into treatment programs.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whenever people start talking about the prison system being broken, using examples of people whose sentence is disproportionate to their crime, implying that to be the norm, while ignoring the overwhelming majority's unrepentant attitude, you know you're dealing with intellectual dishonesty. In Perry's case, I suspect political posturing. "Shut down prisons" is not the expression of a man with a balanced view of the situation. 'Reform prisons' MAY be wise but do away with prisons? That is irresponsibility that dismisses the public good in favor of personal ambition.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nowhere did I get the impression RP wants to shut down *all* the prisons. It sounded to me like he feels that too many people are being locked up, and he wants to reverse the trend of an ever increasing prison population.

I'm also sure that he knows exactly how many people are on death row, and that executions aren't going to have anything but a tiny affect on prison costs/capacity. So it wasn't a "release everyone we can and hang the rest" recommendation.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't close them. Fill them with pedophiles whose victims are 12 and under.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Republicans that once supported tough-on-crime stances have also embraced criminal-justice reform."

"Criminal-justice reform". Oh, that sounds nice!

Now, just exactly what does that mean?

Does it mean we should not send people to prison for wrapping lobsters in plastic? Does it mean that we should stop warehousing hardened criminals in Crime Universities, only to then turn them loose as much worse people than they were? Does it mean we should stop wasting taxpayers' dollars on color TVs, weight machines, and conjugal visits?

Okay, I agree with all of that.

A lot of what needs to be fixed has nothing to do with prisons, it's about why we put people there. (HINT: Too many unelected bureaucrats making rules which can put citizens in prison.)

Reigning in the courts' gross assaults on the judicial and executive branches would also help. Why, yes, we CAN deprive people of basic rights with due process of law, and yes, that includes taking away color TVs, weight machines, conjugal visits, preferred music, etc. Prison should NOT be fun OR boring. It should be HARD, and it should include some mandatory education.

BUT!

If it means confusing the individual Christian duties of compassion and forgiveness with the government's proper role of punishing evil doers, NO!

We've been there, done that, people, and it doesn't work. We got this stupid idea from the Quakers, who gave us "penitentiaries", or, places for people to go become "penitent" (repentant, for those who don't know the old-fashioned lingo).

Prison should be PUNISHMENT, not penitence. Its proper purpose is to produce DETERRENCE, not repentance.

We would bring back the whipping post and the gallows. Property crimes should be handled by restitution, and following the Biblical model, restoring MORE than was taken.

We'd have a lot less violent crime, and most of our prisons could be turned into hospitals.

32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
that one sentence- strong Christian focus----they aren't explaining what that means. Churches in Texas sponsor all sorts of mission work to prisoners while still in prison. There's a big cookie thing- unlimited cookies, or something like that- even little churches with few, and poor members, do this. The Methodist church we went to for years would do this. Regular parishioners would bake tons of cookies and bag them up and give them to the missionaries. The missionaries would go visit the prisoners, bring cookies and fellowship with the prisoners. They weren't being locked up and forgotten. They were being visited over and over and over by very nice people who told them about how much God loved them- enough to give them endless cookies.

It sounds goofy, but I got used to seeing guys in prison blues- obviously just out of jail- participating in church once they got out of prison. They weren't being ignored or thrown away.

School counselors- the one at my kids' elementary, run groups for kids with parents in prison- including marriage counselling, or something like that for the parents as well.

It's not all just "pay your taxes and ignore the icky people." And it's not just a government solution. It's the other elements in society- schools, churches, teachers, missionaries, regular people- fishing those guys out of deep water.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perry's been in office long enough to remember the Kenneth Allen McDuff case [http://www.executedtoday.com/2010/11/17/1998-kenneth-allen-mcduff-texas-nightmare/], which led to the explosion of Texas prison construction in the 1990s. There's a fine line between doing prison reform to cut the recidivism rates, and doing it simply because some governments at the state or national level simply want to spend money elsewhere than on the criminal justice system.

Getting reform right isn't going to be easy, since there has to be a well-developed system of determining who should and who shouldn't be let out of prison. Get it wrong and you'll end up repeating the same problem Texas pols ran into when the details of McDuff's release became public.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it would help if we stopped treating prisons as warehouses for societal waste and instead used them as training grounds for integrating with society. Instead of locking someone up for a specified time in a defined prison based on their crime, we use their crime to set their initial tier, and then reward socially-approved behavior by progressively moving them to lower tiers - from maximum security down through minimum security, half-way houses and probation. Bad behavior in prison can be punished either by holding them in their current tier or by moving them back up. it's unlikely that someone inclined to return to violence would be able to control their impulses for the years necessary to work completely through the system, and every time they slipped up they would effectively add years to their sentence, without the difficulty and expense of repeated trials.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Advocating "training grounds for integrating with society" indicates an unwillingness to face facts. Criminals are morally defective. They are 'takers' and are willing to harm others to get what they want. Barring a sincere religious conversion, only age reduces non-sexual offences. The reason we have an 85% recidivism rate is NOT because prison are crime colleges, which only teaches them how to be more successful at what they are already impelled to do. The reason is because they are morally defective.

A nearly perfect society would still have a certain percentage of the criminally inclined because every generation produces a certain percentage of that ilk.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Right, the high recidivism rate must be a sign of a fundamental character flaw. It cannot be due to the fact that our system of dealing with criminals is broken. If almost all convicts are incorrigible, why don't we just save everyone time and suffering and take them out back and shoot them?

I'm not saying that everyone is redeemable. There are always going to be people who want to break things and hurt people. But I think the high recidivism rate has more to do with the fact that a convict walks out of prison with nothing more than a bus ticket home and the skillset that got him into prison to begin with, honed by years of contact with more hardened criminals.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"“If I walked in and said, ‘this is a really good idea they did in Vermont’ – they would laugh at you, even if it was a good idea?"

"If this story had an idea in it, and it came from Grover Norquist, I would laugh at you, and say, Grover probably just wants all his Islamic terrorist buddies freed from prison."
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
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