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August 25, 2015

"Federalism in Action: How Conservative States Got Smart on Crime"

Freedomworks-logo_0The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Jason Pye from the conservative group FreedomWorks.  Here is how the relatively short white-paper concludes:

Conservative states have led the way on justice reform over the last decade. By changing the culture of corrections through sentencing reforms that limit mandatory minimum prison terms to the most serious offenders and rely on treatment as an alternative to incarceration, rehabilitative programs for those who do serve time, and continued assistance when offenders reenter society, lawmakers have reduced recidivism, made communities safer, and saved taxpayers money.

The results from conservative states — these laboratories of democracy — are key as members of Congress look for ways to deal with the federal corrections system, which has seen explosive population and cost growth of its own since 1980. This is federalism in action. Through sentencing reforms and a focus on treatment as an alternative to incarceration, the federal government can lessen the cost-burden on taxpayers by using the lessons from the states to get smart on crime.

Conservatives have embraced the justice reform movement, and they should continue to do so. While passed with the best of intentions, the policies of the past have proven unsustainable, both in terms of the fiscal cost and the negative impact on poor and minority communities. The model that conservative states have provided fundamentally changes the nature of the approach. Punishments are, of course, still meted out by courts, but the sentences given offer a means for offenders to alter the direction of their lives.

One such example is a woman named Sarah Gilleland, whose story was told by Gov. Nathan Deal in a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly in January 2012. “Sarah was a drug addict. The drug use that began as recreation resulted in a destructive cocaine and methamphetamine addiction. It took control of her life. At one point, she had no means of transportation, she lost custody of her little girl, she wound up homeless,” Deal explained. “But I mention Sarah tonight because she exemplifies many of the goals we hold for our corrections system.”

“Under the supervision of a drug court, piece-by-piece, she began rebuilding her life. With help, she beat addiction, she won back her daughter, she is now a sponsor helping other women who face the same trials, and because she provides a powerful example of hope and redemption, I have asked her to join us in this chamber tonight,” he said, pointing to Sarah in the gallery of the chamber.

“Sarah was given a shot a better life and she took it. Her story is not the exception, it is playing out all across Georgia as people reclaim their lives through the work of accountability courts.”

“That is why we must focus on transforming our corrections system into a last resort of opportunity—a place where low-level offenders are reclaimed and restored to society as functioning members of the community—working to support their own families and paying taxes,” he added.

Compelling stories such as this are not just told in Georgia, they are also told in other states that have adopted conservative justice reforms that focus on rehabilitation, rather than incarceration. And as more states and the federal government adopt the effort, more prison space will be reserved for the worst offenders in society, while those who have demonstrated a willingness to change their lives become productive citizens.

August 25, 2015 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


This is so irksome. Conservatives have always been smart on crime---it was conservative policies that helped reduce an out of control crime problem. That conservatives are willing to tweak policies to optimize use of scarce criminal justice resources and reduce opportunity costs says a lot about conservatives.

It seems so long ago, but it bears remembering that the Democrat party standard bearer in 1988 thought it was a great idea let convicted murderers serving life to have weekend furloughs. (Furloughs may be a good idea in some situations--like if a person's release date is in 4 months to acclimate him or her to freedom--I don't know--don't profess to know, but that's not what Dukakis defended.) No one in their right minds would defend that now. Now, of course, the let's be enlightened crowd comes at us with different arguments, but they all boil down to the same thing--we're too mean to criminals. They're a little more sophisticated now, but it's the same old nonsense.

An example of this old wine, new skins approach can be found in Plata. Here's the quote: "Some evidence indicated that reducing overcrowding in California’s prisons could even improve public safety." Professor Berman would have us all believe that because some expert said so, and some arch-liberal judicial panel swallowed it, the conclusion was sacrosanct.

But that's hokum--any analysis of that statement (regardless of whether some expert "said so") shows it to be ridiculous on its face. First, there is the sleight of hand--overcrowding in the abstract causes increased recidivism, so therefore in this particular situation, releasing criminals will help public safety. For Doug, who stoutly defends this nonsense (contained in a SCOTUS majority opinion, no less), the logical fallacy is obvious--it doesn't take into consideration the fact that there will be criminal behavior from the reduced incapacitation--and of course, that doesn't even take into account the long lag time between the release of criminals and the reduced recidivism. My logic is unimpeachable. And I am challenging anyone in here to prove it wrong. And no, an expert said so, doesn't get it done.

That such nonsense could appear in a Supreme Court opinion, and an esteemed law prof will think the decision with such nonsense is great is a testament to how far divorced "enlightened" opinion is from reality. The proper response to that "Some evidence" quote is "you gotta be f'in kidding me."

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2015 8:16:53 PM


Posted by: Joe | Dec 21, 2015 4:06:01 PM

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