Conversations regarding incarceration and reentry takes center stage with a group of Americans that some feel are unsuspecting.
Conservatives…yes, conservatives have been endorsing more “progressive-minded” outlooks towards issues related to criminal justice. For a few conservatives, this is nothing new, but hearing more and more mainstream conservatives spotlight the idea.
In the past it has been easily assumed that conservatives were willing to spend more money on criminal justice if it meant more individuals or incarcerated for longer periods of time, but that trend seems to be changed. Most of modern-day conservatives are supporting more liberal ideas of mass incarceration and more focus on rehabilitation through alternative incarceration.
Recently the LA Times reported:
For more than 40 years, conservatives have blindly supported a vast expansion of criminal laws and appropriated billions of dollars for new prisons to hold the inmates convicted under those laws.
Conservatives in deficit-ridden California are strongly looking at ways to change the national conversation on incarceration, partly due to the huge amount of state revenue that is being taken away from state issues like schools, hospitals, roads, or tax cuts, and sent to housing prisoners.
In essence, they feel a small more effective government can also apply to a smaller more effective incarceration population – which allows state funds to go to areas they care more about.
It’s thought of as the national Right on Crime, to which there is a Texas-based nonprofit of the same name with the same goal in mind.
Pat Nolan, distinguished fellow on justice at Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) and co-author of The Times Op-Ed piece writes:
We believe it’s no longer enough for conservatives just to be tough on crime; we also must be tough on criminal justice spending. That means getting the most public safety for the fewest taxpayer dollars. Conservatives must demand the same accountability from our correctional system that we require from other government programs.
D.C. returning citizen Ahmed Muhammad [who’s also a registered Republican] is glad to see the idea taken hold.
“I am a returning citizen who went to prison because I chose to be involved in drug trafficking,” he said “and I received a sentence that I thought was extreme, and for a number of years I complained about it. But now that I’m out of prison, off probation, and have a stable job – I’ve always endorsed shorter prison sentences, but never have been against mandatory minimums. Putting people in prison for shorter periods of time offers an opportunity at focusing more on the rehabilitation then punishment… Because we all can agree that being in prison is punishment enough.”
In the District of Columbia the issue on incarceration and reentry may not be as partisan as in most states. There are no hard numbers to how many people live in D.C. that has been to prison; but considering there are about 2000 or so people returning from prison annually and an estimated 60,000 + who are on some sort of probation, parole, or on community service requirements, then, it would not be hard to assume that there would be in upwards to 150,000, or more.
Are conservatives to believe, these roughly 150,000 Washingtonians could stand a better chance of being productive to society if many of them had received alternative to prison or shorter sentences?
It may be hard to tell, but it’s believed states which have made great strides in prison reform have lower crime rates – and that translates to decreased public safety spending, higher high school graduation rates, and slightly higher employment numbers, than the past.
What are these alternatives that are growing? Change has come to Oregon, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, and über conservative Texas. In Texas for instance, actual incarceration is down (but still high). With this decreased incarceration initiative that means the state is able to use more funds to strengthen probation, drug courts, recovery programs, juvenile courts, and supporting victim rights.