Justice Reform Is At An Historic Crossroad

Bob Barr
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Posted: Sep 13, 2016 12:01 AM
Justice Reform Is At An Historic Crossroad

While professional athletes like second-string NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick engage in immature “protests” over some perceived peeve with our country’s criminal justice system, Republicans in Congress are diligently working to meaningfully improve America’s justice system.  Whether they succeed in their historic effort, however, remains up in the air and its future may very well be decided this week.

Currently, three bills pending in the U.S. House – the Sentencing Reform Act, the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, and the Criminal Code Improvement Act -- remain backed by bipartisan coalitions both inside and outside the government. As anyone who has maintained even a passing acquaintance with congressional goings-on in recent years knows, cooperation between Left and Right on any issue is unusual; and something that is extremely rare on a matter as substantive as criminal justice reform.

While the “social justice” movement espoused by far Left radicals like Black Lives Matter has poisoned much of the public debate surrounding justice reform, genuine criminal justice reform lead by Republicans in the House and Senate, is a truly worthy cause that all conservatives should support. As highlighted recently in remarks by FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon in support of the proposals, “Our justice system is in crisis. Our prison populations and budgets have ballooned out of control. Americans are being crippled by sentences disproportional to their crime. Our system should rehabilitate and reform those in need, not warehouse nonviolent offenders and burden our nation.”

Far more than in the past, support for criminal justice reform among conservatives is growing; with many of the reforms touching on principles long-favored by conservatives. For example, even as the current proposed reforms strengthen due process rights – a principle not always championed by traditional conservatives – at the same time they would begin to reverse the trend toward systemic over-criminalization that long has bothered conservatives, and which distracts police officers from pursuing real criminal activity such as violent crimes.

Also, the reforms incorporated in the pending legislation would help to keep families together; a benefit conservatives have argued for years would dramatically help reduce poverty and steer young people away from future criminal behavior. And, perhaps most important to conservatives, the Sentencing Reform Act alone is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to save $769 million in taxpayer funds, by finally addressing prison overcrowding.

Criminal justice reform truly is a historic win for conservative values.  Unfortunately, this is precisely why its critics resort to fear-mongering, not facts, in attempting to derail this landmark effort.

One need only look to several conservative states that have enacted similar criminal justice reform bills, to see the benefits of what is now being proposed nationally. States including Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina have witnessed significant drops in incarceration rates and criminal recidivism, as a direct result of state-level criminal justice reforms.  Taxpayers in these states have enjoyed the added benefit of saving millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on a broken system. “Texas used to spend billions locking people up for minor offenses,” former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who helped spearhead reform in his state, remarked on his efforts. “We implemented common sense policies that made not only Texas tough, but also smart on crime.”

Perry justifiably calls these results “extraordinary,” noting that already the crime rate in the Lone Star State has dropped to its lowest levels since 1968, while saving its taxpayers nearly $2.0 billion.

This is why the efforts now underway in Congress, spearheaded by GOP leaders Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, are so critical. The current prison crisis worsens with each new inmate added to the federal prison system by an outdated sentencing structure that allows for little, if any discretion for judges to differentiate between drug kingpins and non-violent, low level offenders. And, with more than 4,000 federal criminal laws on the books already, and countless more overlapping regulatory and state laws, criminal justice reform reduces the risk that innocent and otherwise non-violent offenders will be swept into the ruinous criminal justice system that should be focusing on the truly heinous criminals.

We stand at the crossroads of a truly historic moment in America, in which a decades-overdue overhaul of the criminal justice system promises to make our country a far better place in which to pursue the American dream. The conservative case for sentencing reform is clear, and the time for action is now.