It’s been a good week for conservative criminal justice reform, which increasingly appears to be a unifying issue for the base and the party’s national leadership. On the one hand, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry—who some speculate will run again for president this election cycle—has joined Jeb Bush as a signatory on the “Right on Crime” pledge. That pledge entails upholding a series of criminal justice reform principles, including the idea that prisons have been too often relied upon as a shortcut to solving our criminal problems—the equivalent of sweeping dirt under a rug:
A clear example is our reliance on prisons, which 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 nonviolent, low-risk offenders—making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered.
Overall, this is pretty mild stuff, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Perry’s announcement that he was signing the pledge highlighted that he had closed down three prisons in Texas and was amping up treatment programs for “people who wouldn’t be served well by sitting behind bars.”In the meantime, reforms slated in Utah to “get mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicted criminals into rehabilitation programs, and sentence them to shorter times in prison or secure rehab facilities” seem to be enjoying wide support. 63 percent of “very conservative” respondents to a recent poll on the proposed changes agreed with them—even though they will cost more in the short term.With growing support from the base and with Presidential candidates signing on (likely to use as a talking point during the election season), the GOP is taking a welcome step forward on making the criminal justice system more humane.