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Prison Injustice
Conservatives Band Together on Criminal Reforms

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.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    The third paragraph of the “Right on Crime” Statement of Principles begins with this:

    “Conservatives are known for being tough on crime, but we must also be tough on criminal justice spending”.

    Memo to conservatives employed in that system: Here comes your budget cut boys and girls! (And thanks for your votes.)

    Not that this would be all bad. The conservatives working in criminal justice RICHLY deserve all the “accountability” for actual results in “reducing re-offending” which can possibly be heaped upon them. (I have a friend who was quite close to the inside of this. It’s fair to say that 1/4 of the corrections officers display abject crookedness to inmates, another 1/4 are scared of the first 1/4, another 1/4 think of nothing at all but seniority and retirement, and a final 1/4 are fairly decent people who rotate in and out without staying too long because of the culture of the 3/4. The signatories to the principles may think “liberals” caused all this, but they might soon realize they are commencing to step on their own supporters’ toes.)

    • Andrew Allison

      Your mindless partisanship is really tedious. I accept that your characterization of corrections officers is probably not far from the truth, but the so-called “criminal justice system” is an equal opportunity screw-up. Do a little research into the incarceration malfeasance in Deep Blue California and get back to us on the joys of Blue Rule. As a L/R cross-dresser, I’d suggest that if we stopped incarcerating people for victimless crimes, we’d significant reduce the prison population, the hardening of criminals and recidivism. The major impediment to this is that increased incarceration means more (ridiculously over-compensated) jobs for corrections officers, and $400K salaries for prison psychologists.

      • Corlyss

        Well, you can’t deny that budgets have driven a lot of the alleged “philosophical” compassion displayed by the Europeans. They have eliminated death penalty because it was too expensive. They’ve recently decided that life in prison is similarly inhumane and therefore compromised, so they’re peeling back the number of years a murderer will spend in prison. Low-level property crimes are written off entirely. I’m not sure if they even recognize white collar crimes. Pretty soon, I am confident, they will end up deciding that punishment is nothing more than revenge, and therefore unworthy of such enlightened beings as populate the regulatory bodies of the EU, and eliminate the whole idea, perhaps settling for strong letter of reprimand. I won’t say I’m as skeptical of conservatives as Friend is, but I do view the move with a certain amount of jaundice, knowing how much incarceration has cost the public fisc over all since such non-sense as 3 Strikes for ANY crime, draconian drug sentences, etc., went into effect. Stupidity is rampant in public policy.

        • FriendlyGoat

          My particular view of conservatives and prisons does not revolve around whether the prison is run in red or blue administrations. It revolves around whether the corrections officers are personally liberal or conservative. Real liberals believe in treating inmates as people—-even under the reality of the incarceration setting. Conservatives don’t. They really have their own philosophy club, and it’s not nearly as decent as conservative voters from the churches imagine.

          • Corlyss

            “They really have their own philosophy club, and it’s not nearly as decent . . . ”
            Got proof?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Did you actually LISTEN to your friend’s son’s stories you told for us above? Based on what you told us, you already have proof and needn’t ask me for it.

            I DO have a number of stories on very good authority. I have actually met and taken the philosophical temperature of some of the workers involved in those stories. I’m not blowing smoke. They are conservatives behaving very, very badly. And, no, I’m not publishing actual details here.

          • Corlyss

            I probably should have asked “who is ‘they’?” and “what exactly do you mean?” rather than assuming.
            You said “they have their own philosophy club.” Philosophy is more than anecdotes; it’s a systematic approach. Club indicated as conscious and free association of people with a common interest and goal. That kind of language flirts with conspiracy. You sound like you want to pin human nature on Republicans, but exempt Dems. You know I ain’t buying such a construct. I think there’s something close to genocidal about what the Dems systematic crippling of black society as done, all in the name of keeping blacks on the plantations to replace the loyal white southerners who kicked the party out of the south 50 years ago. But people who make the kinds of complaints and accusations you do usually NEVER mention the predations of the Dem party. Why? Probably because you drank the “we really really care sooooo deeply about our little brothers . . . ” Kool-Aid. If I had to chose between a party whose history stands as testimony of its evil wickedness, and a handful of hateful heartless individuals, I’ll take the hateful heartless individuals. You can hope for redemption of the few. Millions allied to a party that relies on people not believing their lying eyes is a much much harder problem to fix.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I am aware and will concede that some Dems in government are ingenuous and COMPLETELY unhelpful.

            The particular burr under my saddle with respect to corrections people which I can’t discuss without betraying confidence relates to several conservative-minded individuals—-some of whom were hired in a Dem administration. Nothing’s perfect.

      • Frank Natoli

        “Stopped incarcerating people for victimless crimes”
        Then change the law so the issue in question is no longer a crime. A lot has been written recently about “broken windows” but what has been recently written forgets is that “broken windows” wasn’t about the crimes of broken windows, or shaking down motorists, or turnstile jumping, being immediate threats to people’s lives. It was about the men who commit such crimes also being wanted for other much more serious crimes who nevertheless were given desk appearance tickets that they ignored. Arresting them for the “trivial” crimes identified them as serious problems for other reasons and incarcerating them contributed substantially to reducing NYC violent crime rates. So when you change the law for a “victimless crime” to make it not a crime, be aware of the “unintended consequences”.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Well, I do have partisanship, but it’s not mindless. Conservatives have been busy for 35 years trying to lock up more people, not less. They finally decided their approach costs more than they wish to spend. They have also noticed that plenty of people became worse criminals as a result of their lock-em-up philosophy. Whoopee. Decades of stupidity finally turning around just a wee bit and we’re supposed to worship at their feet because they wrote a statement?
        Bear in mind that this group of signers hasn’t actually done anything—-AND—–will probably be resisted by their own tribe when they do.

        As for corrections officers, I suppose you believe that the less you pay them the less they will run the drugs, the tobacco and the cell phones into the prisons through the back door, right? Go for it. Let us know how it goes.

        • Andrew Allison

          “California is, traditionally, seen as a liberal state,” says Lauren Galik, Director of Criminal Justice Reform at Reason Foundation. “But not when it comes to their sentencing laws and prison population.”

          For years, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association (CCPOA), the prison guard union, has been one of the most powerful political forces in the state. It was a key player in the campaign to implement Three Strikes, and against the later failed campaign to repeal it. In 2010, the unionpoured more than $2 million in independent expenditures into Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign. Lynne Lyman, state director of the California Drug Policy Alliance, says that the enormous lobbying power of the law enforcement unions has hampered serious reform in the state and nationwide.

          • FriendlyGoat

            In any state where all unions, or public-employee unions in particular, are to be politically assaulted, I always recommend that the unions of police officers and corrections officers be assaulted FIRST. But they seldom are. They are the favorite unions of conservatives—-which is why even Scott Walker in Wisconsin largely exempted them from his Act 10 of 2011.

          • Andrew Allison
          • FriendlyGoat

            Apparently Deukmejian, Wilson and Schwarzenegger liked corrections officers better than teachers during the 24 years they served since 1983.

          • Andrew Allison

            Reality check: “Fifteen years ago, in a spasm of abject irresponsibility, then-Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature pumped up pension benefits for state employees on blithe, unsupported assurances from a union-friendly CalPERS board that high investment earnings, not taxpayers, would cover the cost. And many local governments blindly followed suit.” (
            The California legislature has been in Democrat hands (except for two years in the Assembly) since 1970. A cynic might think that the reason for this is the ridiculous salaries and benefits enjoyed by public employees. One doesn’t have to be a cynic to recognize what 45 years of Blue Rule have done to the late great State. The unfunded public pension liability alone is, assuming a ridiculous 7.5% rate of return, well over $200 billion. The State ranked 39th in the nation for K-12 last year, and 32nd on school spending. Need I continue with this indictment of blue rule?

          • FriendlyGoat

            The article you linked had an implication that the pension formulas for corrections officers were more generous than for teachers. Why would that be possible in blue-land?

          • Andrew Allison

            Because, as the article clearly stated, CCPOA has been even better at arm-twisting than the CTA, which is entirely irrelevant to that fact that your argument that the criminal justice mess is the fault of conservatives is nonsensical. 45 years of Democratic rule have, quite literally, ruined California (and Detroit, Chicago, etc.). You’re clearly a glutton for punishment [grin].

          • FriendlyGoat

            First of all, shouldn’t we consider that the Right on Crime movement is a national thing across many states where corrections officers have not gone as far out of fiscal control as California?

            And can’t we reasonably conclude that the movement has been created to address the conservative-led trend of locking more people away over the last four decades. Even Texas has gotten on board with the idea that their prisons now cost too much, for instance, and we know the libs have not been running that state ever.

            As for CCPOA being “better arm-twisters” than CTA in California, though, WHY could that possibly happen in a blue state which loves blue teachers, EXCEPT that 24 years of GOP governors respected corrections people more than they respected teachers?
            We have to assume that Davis and Brown would not be doing that because CCPOA is not a greater supporter of liberal governors than teachers are.

          • Andrew Allison

            If all else fails change the subject

          • FriendlyGoat

            That’s what I thought you were doing with all the emphasis on California over all the states taken in total.

        • Frank Natoli

          “Conservatives have been busy for 35 years trying to lock up more people, not less.”
          Your words intentionally suggest that Conservatives are running a paddy wagon down the street and picking up people at random to keep the prisons full. You chose those words because actually picking a specific criminal violation and then arguing that either the violation or the prison time are “wrong” is trickier.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The Right on Crime Statement of Principles does not include “Conservatives are known for being tough on crime” for no reason.

            The trend to filling up prisons HAS been a conservative endeavor for three to four decades. They are proud of that, but they never explained to their own supporters how much money they would be spending on it. Now we see this attempted back-pedal which, so far, is long on words and short on any real change.

          • Frank Natoli

            Are you “tough on crime”? If so, what do you do when confronted with crime? Liberals, which you appear to be, when confronted with crime, blame anyone and anything except the perpetrator. After a long enough period of time, Liberals produce NYC, where I was born and raised, of 2,200 murders and an even larger number of forcible rapes, robberies, burglaries, assaults every year. The conservative solution is, yes, to incarcerate the SOBs who perpetrate the above. And your solution?

          • FriendlyGoat

            The felons you mentioned belong in prison. The only sensible alternative for some of them would be to shoot them. A lot of the others in prison need (or needed, but didn’t get in a timely way) parenting, education, a job and someone to love.

    • Corlyss

      I agree with you about the guardians of the incarcerated. My friend’s son worked in the system for several years. He was possessed of one of the canniest intuitions about people and he was known for treating the inmates with respect, fairness, and understanding. Then the county brought in a pal of the mayor or CM, or some highly placed time-server, who proceeded to upend everything at the jail, terrorize the guards and the inmates, crush the union, and put my friend’s son into such an apprehensive state of despair that he ended up having to quit. Inmates died from abuse or neglect or just plain ignorance (one was dismissed as drunk when what he had was diabetes and needed a glucose fix). Nobody cared. My friend’s son is a sensitive lad, and much as he wanted to make a difference in the job, he just couldn’t take what it was going to him.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m glad you pointed this out. It mirrors first-hand accounts also told to me, including equivalent tales of senseless deaths.

    • Alex K.

      “we must also be tough on criminal justice spending”

      I hope that does not mean less spending on public defenders and other legal assistance.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I suspect it almost certainly means that—considering Republicans’ general ideas of how to spend money. The statement of principles is not very specific by design.

  • iconoclast

    Now if they just institute caning….

    • Andrew Allison

      I feel you cane, er pain, but as noted elsewhere in this discussion, the real problem is the overall cost of incarceration for victimless crime and the enormously powerful Union lobby in favor of it due to the benefits its members receive.

  • Corlyss

    “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. ”

    The remainder get the firing squad. 🙂

  • MartyH

    Megan McArdle recently posted on this. Her summary:

    “If we want to be serious about de-incarceration, we need to seriously grapple with the fact that most of the people in prison have done something that really is wrong, things that we wish to stop them from doing again. A de-incarceration movement that doesn’t keep this in mind risks undercutting support for its goals, as the public discovers that all those criminals we’re not incarcerating are now free to commit more crime. And, in fact, the professionals in the de-incarceration movement do know this. But the rest of us need to know it, too, so that we can support smart policies and not demand more from deincarceration than it can realistically deliver.

    Smart de-incarceration can give us fewer prison beds and less crime. But stupid de-incarceration, like we tried in the 1970s, can give us the overreaction of the 1980s and 1990s — which is to say even more broken communities and lives wasted staring at prison walls.

    • f1b0nacc1

      While I heartily endorse the spirit of your comment (and the quote that it is related to), I should point out that a very significant number of those incarcerated in the US are there as a result of drug violations, which much of the time are non-violent crimes with little impact beyond the individual incarcerated themselves. It isn’t difficult to imagine a movement to de-incarcerate a substantial number of drug users that would NOT have the negative impacts you are discussing (remember, the mistakes of the 1960s and 70s dealt primarily with crimes against property and person, not ‘lifestyle crimes’), and might even have some positive knock-on impacts on race, etc.

    • JDanaH

      Megan can be an insightful writer, but her detached approach to problems drives me nuts. Yes, “most of the people in prison have done something that really is wrong, things that we wish to stop them from doing again,” but that doesn’t mean they should have been sent to prison for the “wrong” thing they did. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Getting drunk every night is wrong. Using heroin is wrong. Prostitution is wrong. That doesn’t mean people should be sent to jail for any of these things.

      We don’t need a “more compassionate” criminal justice system. We need a criminal justice system that restricts itself to punishing criminals. We can start by repealing the countless laws on the books that define as crimes actions that impose no physical force on anyone else.

    • Fred

      Precisely. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s and early 1980s. Crime was out of control. That’s why movies like “Death Wish” and “Dirty Harry” were so wildly popular. Demographics was partly to blame–the baby boomers were reaching the age at which most people who are going to commit crimes begin committing them–but liberal attitudes, policies, and courts were at least as responsible. When the largest generational cohort in your history is reaching prime crime-committing age, that is not the time to relax moral standards, treat perpetrators as victims (of racism, poverty, whatever), and make law enforcement’s job more difficult. It is no coincidence that crime plummeted in the 1990s. Again, demographics is part of the story; the baby boomers were beginning to exit prime crime-committing age at that point. But stricter sentencing, “broken window” policies, and relaxing of restrictions put on the police in the 60s and 70s were at least equally responsible. I am extremely skeptical of and apprehensive about the current trend to relax law enforcement, the current vogue for condemning the police for doing their job, and the unholy alliance of libertarian quasi-anarchism and “progressive” soft-headedness about crime and incarceration. I believe it was Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  • Josephbleau

    The source of the problem is the political class who cannot be seen as soft on crime or they will loose elections. Ask Hillary! If she will empty prisons.

  • darleenclick

    How many of you work in the criminal justice system? If you don’t, pardon me but most of what goes on in your communities as crime is under your radar unless you’ve been a victim.

    California is reeling under the effects of Prop 47 and AB109 (Prison realignment). Violent criminals, even those with sex offenses, are being released from state prison. Whole categories of crime have been permanently reduced from felonies to misdemeanors (nice trick that one – a “drop in serious crime” by just rewriting the category).

    e.g. a career criminal with a years-long rap sheet in commercial burglary now can get every one of those charges (PC666) reduced to misdemeanors. And can go out and continue to commit such burglary – as long as each instance is under $950 — and they will never be exposed to more than a citation, some jail time and probation.


    About half the state prisoners that were released from state prison under AB109 (about 10k) and told to report to county probation never showed up. Another percentage get right back into crime within a few weeks of release. There have also been several instances of rape and murder done by those released under AB109.

    Stupid de-incarceration indeed.

  • Corlyss

    A forgotten memory resurfaced about Utah’s drug stats that put the state’s decision about drug sentencing in that context. For a state with its reputation for drug and alcohol control, Utah’s worst drug problem is with prescription drug abuse. It makes sense to create an alternative to criminalization and let the family and community do what it can to salvage the lives being destroyed by the current system.

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