by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Those of you who were interested to hear recently from Marc Levin, the Texas Public Policy Foundation criminal justice expert who plays a key role in the national group Right On Crime, might appreciate the latest column from Michael Barone.
Conservatives in increasing numbers are moving away from their decades-long support for long prison terms for criminals.
Last year, Newt Gingrich, William Bennett and Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese endorsed a “right on crime” initiative, calling for rehabilitation measures rather than prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.
They joined liberals who have been dismayed that America has just about the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in history.
There’s little question that the vast increase in prison populations from the lows of the 1960s to the highs of recent decades have resulted in reduced crime. Violent offenders who are locked up can’t attack people outside.
But it’s also true that crime rates stayed high for a couple of decades after prison populations started their vast increases. Better police tactics, pioneered by Rudolph Giuliani and William Bratton in New York City and adapted by many others, played a major role.
Meanwhile, laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in lengthy terms for many who are likely to be no threat to society. This has led conservatives like anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist to endorse the Families Against Mandatory Minimums organization.
It seems particularly unfair to many conservatives as well as to liberals that judges must sentence people possessing small amounts of marijuana to five-year terms when states with medical marijuana dispensaries have de facto legalized the substance.