According to the 2012 Republican Party platform, prisons "should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner re-entry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization."
Anti-tax leader Grover Norquist, whose name has been in the news quite a bit these days, referred to the criminal justice system as "the last sacred cow" at a conservative conference. "Spending more on education doesn't necessarily get you more education. We know that -- that's obvious. Well, that's also true about national defense. That's also true about criminal justice and fighting crime."
ALEC, the conservative state legislative council has likewise taken to advocating for reforms to address overcrowding. According to one report from the group, "Taxpayers are not well served by a broken and potentially dangerous prison and parole system. In order to properly protect American citizens, some immediate solution must be found to reduce prison overcrowding so those deemed most violent to society serve their full prison sentence."
Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, has described himself as "all in on the fight for criminal justice reform here in the U.S." In his blog, Meckler has written quite eloquently about the devastating impact of overincarceration on minority communities: "We're destroying a significant portion of our own population, especially in the inner cities."
It goes beyond words. A number of states that lean to the conservative side have recently passed legislation aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, including Texas, Alabama and Georgia. No doubt more reforms are on the way, possibly including some right here in politically ambiguous West Virginia.
According to the Right On Crime website, a conservative prison reform resource, "When criminal justice systems reduce prison populations and reinvest a portion of the savings in evidence-based methods of reducing crime, not only are taxpayer dollars saved, but more efficient and effective programs can be fiscally prioritized."
This sea change in attitudes toward prisons is encouraging for more than one reason. As David Dagan and Steven M. Teles write in the Washington Monthly article, "This will do more than simply put the nation on a path to a more rational and humane correctional system. It will also provide an example of how bipartisan policy breakthroughs are still possible in our polarized age."
Wilson is director of the American Friends Service Committee's WV Economic Justice Project.