October 4, 2017


With leadership from Republican governors and legislators and groups such as Right on Crime, conservatives have pushed to rein in runaway prison spending and adopt cost-conscious correctional policies that improve public safety. Starting 10 years ago in Texas, more than half of all states have now shifted course, changing laws to ensure that violent offenders serve hard time while those who are not a danger are steered toward less expensive alternatives that can help alter the paths of their lives and make communities safer.

Taxpayers benefit. In 2007 the Pew Charitable Trusts projected that state prisons would grow 14% over five years, costing states $27.5 billion more. Instead, the reforms have bent the curve. The state prison population is down 5%. Between 2010 and 2015, 31 states reduced both crime and imprisonment, proving that fiscal discipline and safe streets can go hand in hand. . . .

In 2007, the Texas Legislature projected the state would need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years, at a cost of $2 billion. Conservative lawmakers and then-Gov. Rick Perry instead expanded the use of drug courts, community treatment and other alternatives. Ten years later, the reforms have allowed Texas to avoid more than $3 billion in new spending and close four prisons with four more planned closures. Crime has dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Since Texas’ pioneering move, other states have followed. After South Carolina passed substantial criminal justice reforms in 2010, the state cut its prison population by 14%, closed six prisons, and saved $491 million—all while crime continued to decline.

The latest example is Louisiana, the state with the highest incarceration rate. In June its Legislature enacted a 10-bill reform package that is expected to reduce incarceration by 10% and save more than $250 million over the next decade. Some savings will be directed to programs that reduce recidivism and help crime victims. Six of the nine bill authors were Republicans.

Many of America’s reddest states are proving that criminal justice reform works: Georgia, Utah, South Dakota—the list goes on. Strong conservative leadership has been essential. Continued progress won’t be possible without it.

Well, luckily those states probably won’t go Democrat any time soon.

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