Are We "On the Cusp of Getting Bipartisan Prison-Sentencing Reform"?

According to National Review‘s Betsy Woodruff, Hill
aides are
telling her
 that “we’re on the cusp of getting bipartisan
prison-sentencing reform.” If they’re right, that’s a tribute, as
Woodruff’s article shows, to carefully crafted left/right
alliances. In this case, the team includes not just the civil
libertarians on each side of the aisle, but social conservatives
who have learned the unfortunate effects of incarceration from
their friends in prison ministries, plus some hard-nosed
budget-cutters who are trying to save a buck.

Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

I know, I know—Alcatraz isn't in Texas. Humor me.Texas legislators acted in 2007
after the corrections department told them it would need to spend
the money to add upwards of 17,000 beds over five years….So the
state passed reforms designed to reduce recidivism by creating
alternatives to incarceration. Low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders
were getting sent to prison because judges and prosecutors couldn’t
find anything else to do with them, according to [Marc] Levin [of
the Texas Public Policy Foundation]. Prison in Texas costs $50 per
person per day, but alternatives are much, much cheaper: Probation
is only $3.50 per day, drug courts are about $6 to $8 per day, and
an electronic GPS runs at about $10 per day.

So policymakers realized they could make a dramatic increase in
spending on incarceration alternatives and still save tons of
money. And that’s not even touching on the fact that, as Levin
points out, incarceration can sometimes be counterproductive.
Alternatives to incarceration mean that people convicted of
nonviolent crimes can spend time with their families instead of in

The general consensus was that Texas’s reforms worked. In 2004, a
little over 30 percent of the state’s released inmates ended up
incarcerated again within three years. By 2007, that number had
dropped to 24 percent. Instead of adding thousands and thousands of
beds, the state closed three adult and six juvenile prisons.

From a political perspective, the state’s success was incredibly
significant — not just because it showed that prison reform was
workable as a policy, but also because it was Texas.

[Grover] Norquist tells NRO that when he testified at a hearing on
criminal-justice reform in Florida, “When I would say, ‘You know,
in Texas they did this,’ all of a sudden the Republicans on the
committee would look up and go, ‘Oh, you mean this is real. This
isn’t something from Vermont.'”

We’ve been
side of the prison
reform movement
here at Reason for a while—generally
favorably, though we haven’t
from criticizing
for the ways it stops short of the changes we favor. Thus
far, the movement’s victories have tended to come on the state
level; if Woodruff’s sources are right that we’re about to see a
win in Congress too, that’s a big jump forward.

from Hit & Run

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