Grover Norquist, the president of conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, continues his new crusade to get conservatives on the Straight Talk (on Crime) Express with this recent op-ed in the Orange County Register. The piece nicely sums up how incarceration doesn't promote conservative family values -- or, really, any conservative values:
...lengthy prison stays pull people away from school, family obligations and religious institutions – all of the things that conservatives rightly emphasize as critical to good citizenship.
Today's criminal justice system is big government on steroids, and the responsibility for taming its excesses falls to those committed to smaller government: conservatives. We fight against big government, excess spending, unaccountability, and bureaucracy in nearly every other segment of spending. With new Republican majorities nearly 20 state legislatures, now is the time to start fighting against an ineffective, big-government prison system. and begin being tough on criminal justice's bottom line as well as crime.That message should resonate in California, which has both a budget crisis -- and that's crisis with a capital C -- and a notoriously bloated prison population:
In states like California, the annual cost of incarceration is around $50,000 per inmate. When looking for reasons why California is going bankrupt, just multiply that figure by the 170,000 inmates that live in the state. Moreover, 34,000 California prisoners are serving life sentences as a result of the "three strikes" law, for which the state prison guards' union lobbied intensely. Certainly, some violent criminals should be out after the first strike, but the law applies to many low-level, nonviolent offenders, too.Stats like those make budget cutting practically a no-brainer! This nice piece from California's Inland Valley Daily Bulletin gets into the nitty-gritty on new Governor Jerry Brown's efforts to cut back -- with no mention of three strikes law reform:
Brown's budget calls for the elimination of the Division of Juvenile Justice, putting the responsibility on local governments to detain juvenile offenders ($250 million in savings). Meanwhile, lower-level, nonviolent, non-sex offenders would be housed in county jails, not prisons ($1.4 billion in savings). Perhaps we should consider the Texas model, where there have been reduced sentences for drug crimes, and a focus on job training and rehabilitation. As a result, Texas has seen a decrease in serious crime and its incarceration rate, even saving over $2 billion by not having to build a 17,000-bed prison that was planned.Undoubtedly, Governor Brown is doing his best -- and he inherited this mess, by the way. A crisis, by definition, calls for serious action. It's the obvious fix that is the most serious: if you want to cut corrections costs, send fewer people to prison and don't make them stay there as long!
Three strikes and mandatory minimum reform should be the first -- not the last -- order of business for states looking to cut budgets.