July 6, 2011
"The GOP's Born-Again Prison Reformers"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent piece over at The Daily Beast. Here is how it begins:
Back in the early 1990s, William Kennedy was a power player who toed the Republican Party line and put the likes of Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan’s tough-on-crime attorney general, on the cover of his Conservative Digest magazine. Then some business deals went south and he was convicted of racketeering and money laundering and spent 17 years behind bars (his first night in Colorado’s Ed Meese Detention Center, of all places). Recently dozens of leading conservatives gathered at a private home in Virginia to welcome him back to society. Kennedy insists he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct, but a bitter irony still overwhelms him. “I helped push the same laws that put me away all these years,” he told us in his first interview since his release in January . “I was a law-and-order conservative. What an idiot I was.”
His is not the only transformation. The party of Nixon’s 1968 law-and-order campaign, Just Say No, and the Willie Horton ad is now seeing a growing number of leaders tackling what once would have been political suicide: reforming the country’s overwhelmed criminal justice system. While the recent Supreme Court decision to free tens of thousands of California prisoners due to overcrowding has upset conservatives (Justice Antonin Scalia dissented strongly, describing the potential release of “46,000 happy-go-lucky felons”), the magnitude of the decision makes it even harder to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have a problem. And these days many conservatives are leading the charge for a solution.
Conservative governors in lock ’em up states are suddenly talking about rehabilitation and redemption, not throwing away the key. Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation in April that opens the door to overhauling Georgia’s sentencing laws; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal in January announced a partnership to help fix the state’s ballooning incarceration rate — the highest in the country. In Indiana, Mitch Daniels says he is fighting for legislation to reduce recidivism (nationally, 43 percent of offenders are back in jail within three years). And Ohio’s new Republican governor, John Kasich, is being feted by conservatives for pushing a prison reform bill through the state house in early May, calling the reform “low-hanging fruit.” Legislation that would keep more people out of prison has also recently passed in such right-leaning states as Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina.
Inside the Beltway it’s the same story. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America once called for more prisons and tougher sentencing, but these days the presidential candidate is co-authoring passionate editorials about the need for “common-sense left-right agreement” on prison reform and “encouragement and love” for offenders who have served time. He’s joined other conservative icons like Meese, Grover Norquist, William Bennett and NRA president David Keene to pledge their names to the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s recently launched “Right on Crime” website, designed to make the rehabilitation of non-violent offenders and the end of skyrocketing incarceration rates the new conservative cause célèbre.
July 6, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "The GOP's Born-Again Prison Reformers":