By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK
OKLAHOMA CITY – Conservatives should support alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes, argues Richard Viguerie of “New Right” fame.
In a recent commentary for The New York Times, Viguerie argued that conservatives “should recognize that the entire criminal justice system is another government spending program fraught with the issues that plague all government programs. Criminal justice should be subject to the same level of skepticism and scrutiny that we apply to any other government program.”
Viguerie contended prisons “are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.”
Considered the father of conservative direct mail in early days of the “New Right” in the 1970s and 1980s, Viguerie said three principles – public safety, compassion and controlled government spending – lie at the core of the conservative philosophy. He believes conservatives have particular credibility in addressing prison reform.
In his essay for the Times, Viguerie lamented that the United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. He notes that when Ronald Reagan was president, the correctional control rate was less than half what it is today.
Virguerie also lamented that prison systems now cost more than $50 million a year – compared to $9 billion during Reagan’s presidency (in 1985). He pointed out, as well, that prisons are the second fastest growing area of state government spending, behind Medicaid.
He drew attention to his work with the “Right on Crime” effort, which includes several other notable activists as members: Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, David Keene and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese.
Viguerie explained the appeal of the cause to him and other conservatives: “Right on Crime exemplifies the big-picture conservative approach to this issue. It focuses on community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion. Using free-market and Christian principles, conservatives have an opportunity to put their beliefs into practice as an alternative to government-knows-best programs that are failing prisoners and the society into which they are released.”
Noting that Texas is among the most successful recent examples of criminal justice improvements, Viguerie pointed to other states now implementing reforms, including Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, New Hampshire, Ohio, and, most recently, South Dakota.
He reported: “Much of the focus has been on shortening or even eliminating prison time for the lowest-risk, nonviolent offenders and reinvesting the savings in more effective options.”
Viguerie encouraged conservatives to show that “our principles lead to practical solutions that make government less costly and more effective. … Conservatives can show the way by impressing on more of our allies and political leaders that criminal justice reform is part of a conservative agenda.”
CapitolBeatOK has reported previously on the work of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has supported transformational reforms in the Lone Star State’s judicial system. The foundation has sponsored the work of “Right on Crime.”
Contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.