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Right on Crime: Conservative Values to Create Justice Solutions

Mike Klein

Conservatives who want to change criminal justice public policy have another new resource at their disposal. Right on Crime will be unveiled by the Texas Public Policy Foundation during a Wednesday news conference and panel discussion at Americans for Tax Reform headquarters in Washington DC.

Right on Crime is a disciplined commitment to bring conservative values to justice solutions much as conservatives focused earlier on education.  It leaves the starting gate armed with a robust website supplemented by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.  Early support is coming from conservative icons Newt Gingrich, Edwin Meese and many others.

Project founder Marc Levin is Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Levin is a frequent national speaker and just last month he joined the Georgia Public Policy Foundation legislative briefing criminal justice panel.  When we spoke Tuesday afternoon I asked Levin what concerns him most about criminal justice public policy.

“The thing that keeps standing out to me is the broader question of accountability and results,” Levin said.  “It seems to me that with criminal justice systems, at every stage funding expands based on the number of inmates and people on probation.  We know how many people are in the system, but what is the recidivism rate?”

Levin pointed to the obvious but disturbing statistic that criminal justice system state and local spending grows when inmate rehabilitation fails.  More prisoners result in more spending.  More people return to prison when they have not been rehabilitated, which requires more spending.

“By in large, front line people are trying to do their best but I think we have a system in place that doesn’t really reward results,” Levin said. “If you look at education, conservatives pushed merit pay and accountability but I see criminal justice being way behind education.  I really think there is a great need for conservatives to bring the same scrutiny to criminal justice.”

Right on Crime’s primary website and other social media products are designed to influence how legislators think about justice policy.  Conservatives won new majorities in 19 statehouses and more than 600 new conservative state legislators will take office next year.  The opportunity to address effective justice policy from a conservative viewpoint might never have been better.

The Right on Crime new website contains writings by free market think tank journalists and analysts.  Levin said the project will emphasize juvenile justice and victim issues.  There are 22 state profiles, including one for Georgia.  The site contains subsections on principles to reduce crime, reduce costs, reform offenders, make restitution to victims and protect communities.  The Georgia Public Policy Foundation endorsed Right on Crime’s statement of principles.

Several videos are posted on the organization’s new YouTube channel.  Facebook is finding friends and reporting news; the first item: Texas must cut some $300 million from corrections because of budget shortfalls.  Twitter is the home for justice news updates from across the country.  The primary website also supports an RSS feed.

Levin will be joined in Washington by Texas Public Policy Foundation president Brooke Rollins, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Pat Nolan of Justice Fellowship and David Keene of the American Conservative Union.  Folks who want to know more can visit RightonCrime.com to register for an electronic newsletter.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Georgia Still Afford “Lock Them Up and Throw Away the Key”?

Georgia has a significant corrections system challenge and there’s no getting around that fact.  Nationally one in every 100 adults is behind state prison or local jail bars but the number is one in every 70 Georgia adults.  Nationally one in every 31 adults is in prison or jail, on probation or on parole but the comparable number is one in every 13 Georgia adults, worst in the nation.

“It’s really something else that this state is number one, if you will, when it comes to the extent of correctional control of its citizens,” said  Adam Gelb, current director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States and formerly, a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee staff member.

Gelb moderated “Getting Criminal Justice Right: Less Crime for Less Money” at the inaugural Georgia Public Policy Foundation legislative conference.  Gelb was joined by Texas legislator Jerry Madden and Texas Public Policy Foundation analyst Marc Levin.  Madden is considered one of the nation’s top corrections systems innovators and Levin is director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas foundation.

Adam Gelb

Gelb said 25 years ago Georgia spent about $150 million per year on state corrections.  Today the state corrections budget is about $1.1 billion.  But Georgia is not alone.  State corrections budgets exploded during recent years and now are substantial line items in state governments.

“Most people would say that would all be worth it if we got a really strong public safety return,” Gelb said, “and there’s no question that here in Georgia and across the country the expansion of incarceration has helped reduced the crime rate, no question at all.”

Gelb was executive director of the Georgia Governor’s Commission on Certainty in Sentencing between 2001 and 2003.  “When you lock up career offenders, when you lock up violent people that’s who you have prisons for and it pays off,” Gelb said.  “The issue is, have we locked up so many people, has the net been cast so wide that we’re past the point of diminishing returns?  The answer seems to be yes.”

This year Governing Magazine honored Madden and fellow Texas legislator John Whitmire as 2010 Public Officials of the Year for their efforts to reform the Texas corrections system.  The Lone Star state’s landmark 2007 reforms de-emphasized building new prisons.  They had so many new ideas that Madden is almost continuously on-the-road consulting with other states.

Jerry Madden

Madden and Whitmire designed a model that added 4,000 beds for substance abuse treatment, expanded specialty courts, expanded probation services, built short-term jails, and devoted new funding to mental health care and halfway release residences.  They received assistance from Levin at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other outside corrections analysts.

Their new model required a $241 million Texas state government investment.  Their reforms replaced an option to spend $2 billion on new prison construction.  Last year the state’s prison population declined and Texas will not need new prison beds until at least the year 2014.

Levin said the current Texas crime rate is the lowest since 1973, even allowing for events at the contentious U.S.-Mexico border.  Gelb said Georgia’s prison population, about 55,000 adults, is up 30% over ten years and statewide crime is down about 20%.  He noted Mississippi and South Carolina passed recent corrections system reforms.  And, Gelb said the Pew Center will soon begin to work on reforms with Alabama and Louisiana.

Levin and Madden define corrections system reform, in part, as breaking the cycle of adult offenders who return to the corrections system.  “The smartest tool you have is a good risk assessment tool,” Madden said.  He urged states to determine whether offenders are “really bad people or were they people who made really dumb decisions?”

“As conservatives we emphasize limited government and we recognize public safety is, I think, one of those few core roles of government,” Levin said.  “It’s important to hold criminal justice agencies accountable for their results reducing recidivism and make sure that our system is truly effective.  We talk about merit pay, we talk about teach quality (and) accountability in education.  We ought to be just as demanding when it comes to corrections.”

Watch the panel on the Public Policy Foundation YouTube channel: http://tinyurl.com/3x625v4

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.


December 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Georgia Learn from Texas Prison System Reforms?

This article was written for and published by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Each day across Georgia, the state Department of Corrections feeds a population that is nearly equal to the number of residents living in Marietta.  It takes thousands of pounds of food to feed nearly 60,000 adult prisoners.  Paying for the state’s corrections system with its 31 state prisons costs taxpayers $1 billion per year, including the cost to manage 150,000 parolees.

This month the PEW Center on the States reported the first year-to-year drop in state prison population since 1972.   The percentage rate began to decline in 2007, but real numbers did not decline until last year.  Unfortunately, not in Georgia which posted the sixth largest percentage increase in the nation, a 1.6% growth rate, and in real numbers, the Georgia prison population grew by 843 adult felons. Continue reading

April 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment