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April 13, 2011

"NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new Clarence Page commentary from the Chicago Tribune, which starts this way:

Can prominent right wingers like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist get along with the very liberal NAACP? Yes, they can, at least on the high cost of prisons. I'm talking about the recent dance toward common ground taken by some prominent conservatives and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Paragons of conservatism such as Gingrich, a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union, have endorsed a new NAACP report, "Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate."

Although the trio do not all agree with the NAACP's call for more spending on public education, they found common ground on this much: Americans are spending too much on prisons. Over the last two decades, the report finds, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education. Even during the 2009 recession, public funding for public schools and colleges declined while 33 states increased their spending on prisons.

Of the nation's 2.3 million inmates, the report finds, more than 500,000 were convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. This has resulted largely from various "wars" on drugs over the past 40 years. Drug crackdowns led to more police stops, more arrests and more mandatory minimum sentences that judges have to impose, regardless of individual circumstances.

According to the NAACP's report, more than half of all inmates on the local, state and federal level have mental health or drug problems. Many of their situations could be handled at lower cost outside of prison.

An emerging and impressive roster of prominent conservatives agrees. One new cost-conscious group called Right on Crime includes Norquist, Gingrich, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and former drug czar William Bennett.

As some prisons are overcrowded and others stand empty because states can't afford to operate them, some states are increasingly becoming interested in alternative sentencing like home confinement, probation, ankle bracelets and reduced-sentence incentives for education and drug rehabilitation.

Even in notoriously tough-on-crime Texas, boasted NAACP President Benjamin Jealous during a PBS "NewsHour" report, "You have tea party activists and NAACP activists pushing the same (incarceration reform) bills." That's not bad for two groups that last summer were hurling charges of racism at each other.

"I'm delighted to work with the NAACP on this," Norquist told me, putting a new spin on his famous wish to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

April 13, 2011 at 11:46 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Coooool !!! Wish the Right & Left could do the same in Congress. Come together on issues and create a budget that made sense.

Posted by: Lowhandluke | Apr 13, 2011 11:52:26 AM

The main reason for immense popularity of criminal justice colleges in NJ is that America needs those people who hold proper law knowledge especially the criminal one.

Posted by: daniel | Apr 16, 2012 11:14:30 AM

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