The conservative approach to criminal justice:
fighting crime, supporting victims, and protecting taxpayers.

a project of the texas public policy foundation, in partnership with the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION FOUNDATION and JUSTICE FELLOWSHIP

What Conservatives Are Saying

“Misbehavior that leads to disruption in the classroom does not warrant a $500 Class C misdemeanor ticket and subsequent trip to municipal court. An after-school detention or two, for example, should do the trick just fine, without great cost to the taxpayers or overburdening our courts.” – Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform

“Without respect for the law, the best laws cannot be effective. Without respect for law enforcement, laws cannot be carried out. We must have respect, not only for the law, but also for the many who dedicate their lives to the protection of society through enforcement of the law.” — President Ronald Reagan

“Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy handed and arbitrary. They can affect anyone at any time, though they disproportionately affect those without the means to fight them. We should stand and loudly proclaim enough is enough. We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence.” — Rand Paul, U.S. Senator from Kentucky

“I think they need to recognize, as we’ve tried to do here, that there are issues that transcend traditional party labels. There are things that are considered to be important by the electorate that do not necessarily hinge on whose idea it was. For our state, criminal justice reform is a classic example of that. It certainly bridged the party divide…I’m going to encourage the party at the state level to do that.” — Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia

“I believe we can take an approach to crime that is both tough and smart… [T]here are thousands of non-violent offenders in the system whose future we cannot ignore. Let’s focus more resources on rehabilitating those offenders so we can ultimately spend less money locking them up again.” — Rick Perry, Governor of Texas

“The idea that we lock people up, throw them away, never give them a chance at redemption, is not what America is about.” — Rick Perry, Governor of Texas

“States across the country, including Florida, are proving that policies based on these sound conservative principles will reduce crime and its cost to taxpayers.” — Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida

“Without education, job skills, and other basic services, offenders are likely to repeat the same steps that brought them to jail in the first place. This not only affects the offender, but families and our communities as well. This is a problem that needs to be addressed head-on. We cannot say we are doing everything we can to keep our communities and our families safe if we are not addressing the high rate at wich offenders are becoming repeat criminals. By implementing this re-entry program, we can curb the cycle of repeat offenders and thereby reduce the burden on our prisons and help offenders create a place in society that adds value to their lives while keeping our communities safe for our families.” — Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana

“…state and local leaders should have flexibility in enforcing state law and tailoring victim’s services to the individualized needs of their communities, rather than having to comply with one-size-fits-all federal requirements.” — Mike Lee, U.S. Senator from Utah

“When you’re dealing with human beings, if you’re going to put your own future ahead of other people’s lives and their ability to reclaim their lives, you’re making a big mistake.” — John Kasich, Governor of Ohio

“[Incarcerating people who don’t pose a threat is]a really inefficient use of resources — that’s the Republican, fiscal conservative side of this. Then on the other side of it is: What do you end up with? You end up with broken families. You end up with communities that are being plagued with more violence and more crime. And you end up with people not reaching their God-given potential.” — Rob Portman, U.S. Senator from Ohio

“Conservatives should support four policies: improved follow-up, better drug treatment, in-prison work programs, and faith-based rehabilitation.” — Eli Lehrer, The Weekly Standard

“There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential…The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.” — Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

“Today’s criminal justice system is big government on steroids, and the responsibility for taming its excesses falls to those committed to smaller government: conservatives. We fight against big government, excess spending, unaccountability, and bureaucracy in nearly every other segment of spending.” — Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

“Conservatives are known for being tough on crime, but we must also be tough on criminal justice spending. That means demanding more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety.” — William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education

“The approximately 4,500 criminal offenses in the U.S. Code, and tens of thousands in the Code of Federal Regulations, have proliferated beyond all reason and comprehension. Surely when neither the Justice Department nor Congress’ own Research Service can even county the number of crimes in Federal law, the average person has no hope of knowing all he must do to avoid becoming a Federal criminal.” – Brian Walsh, The Heritage Foundation

“Conservatives should lead the campaign to changing the culture of corrections in America.” — Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Attorney General

“Public safety is our first priority. In Georgia, if you are responsible for a serious, violent crime, we will put you away. But research has identified new strategies, like drug courts, that are more effective and much less expensive than prison for many non-violent offenders.” — Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia

“The restitution principle should be much more than an ideal we rarely meet. It should be a reality that we routinely enforce for the benefit of crime victims in Georgia.” – Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia

“We should not be resigned to allowing generation after generation to return to prison because they don’t have the tools to break the cycle. I personally favor a number of these faith-based approaches. But if there are other approaches, let’s try them. This is an enormous problem, and since the ’70s, we have basically just said we’ll lock people up.” – Sam Brownback,Governor ofKansas

“We are closing a prison because of a decline in the inmate population, the agency’s success with a number of post-release programs, and the need to find savings and efficiencies in state government … Any decision such as this must always be made with public safety foremost in our minds … We face an extraordinarily difficult budget situation—a challenge unlike any we have known in modern memory … While other states—including states facing even more severe budget problems than our own—are being forced to build new prisons, we can make the most of our successes by building on these achievements.” – Jodi Rell, former Governor of Connecticut

“I think mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders ought to be reviewed. We have to see who has been incarcerated and what has come from it.” – Ed Meese, former U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan and Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation

“Have you been prosecuted by the Feds? If not, consider yourself lucky. The U.S. Criminal Code has now reached 27,000 pages. Thanks to Congress, there is an ever-expanding number of laws for us to break. … There are now more than 4,000 federal crimes, spread out through some 27,000 pages of the U.S. Code. … You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl and his associated slogan, ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute.’ Some years ago, analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offenses on the books, and gave up. If teams of legal researchers can’t make sense of the federal criminal code, obviously, ordinary citizens don’t stand a chance. It’s for good reason that our Constitution mentions only three federal crimes (treason, piracy, and counterfeiting). The Founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offenses, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law.” – John Stossel, Fox News and Fox Business commentator

“As a physician, I believe that we ought to be doing drug treatment rather than incarceration” – Tom Coburn, United States Senator from Oklahoma

“What, over the last thirty years, has the ‘system’ produced? An endless temptation to spend money. The image of a system induces us to try to create a fiscal balance between the parts. More police mean more criminals arrested, more arrestees mean more prosecutors and judges to convict, more convicts mean more prisons and more parole and probation offices. But perhaps that idea is wrong. Perhaps instead of spreading resources evenly over a system to process criminals, we need to concentrate them on the agencies that prevent crime. Perhaps, to put it bluntly, we need fewer prisons and far more cops—not cops who will feed the system, but cops who will starve it by helping communities protect themselves.” – George Kelling, The Manhattan Institute

“We know from long experience that if [former prisoners] can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. … America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” – President George W. Bush

“The biggest problem from the perspective of the taxpayer, however, is that mandatory minimum sentencing policies have proven prohibitively expensive. In 2008, American taxpayers spent over $5.4 billion on federal prisons, a 925 percent increase since 1982. This explosion in costs is driven by the expanded use of prison sentences for drug crimes and longer sentences required by mandatory minimums. Drug offenders are the largest category of offenders entering federal prisons each year. One third of all individuals sentenced in federal courts each year are drug offenders. And these convicts are getting long sentences. In 2008, more than two-thirds of all drug offenders receive a mandatory minimum sentence, with most receiving a ten-year minimum. … The benefits, if any, of mandatory minimum sentences do not justify this burden to taxpayers. Illegal drug use rates are relatively stable, not shrinking. It appears that mandatory minimums have become a sort of poor man’s Prohibition: a grossly simplistic and ineffectual government response to a problem that has been around longer than our government itself. Viewed through the skeptical eye I train on all other government programs, I have concluded that mandatory minimum sentencing policies are not worth the high cost to America’s taxpayers.” – Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

“The ability of ex-offenders to obtain employment after incarceration and become productive members of their communities is essential to reducing recidivism rates, but due to employers’ concerns about liability, the honest completion of job applications often results in ex-offenders being unable to find work.” – Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida

“Congress needs to rein in the continuing proliferation of criminal regulatory offenses. Regulatory agencies routinely promulgate rules that impose criminal penalties that are not enacted by Congress. Indeed, criminalization of new regulatory provisions has become seemingly mechanical. One estimate is that there are a staggering 300,000 criminal regulatory offenses created by agencies.” – Dick Thornburgh, Former U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Reagan and Gorge H.W. Bush and Pennsylvania Governor

“I was a prosecutor in Los Angeles for eight years in the 1970s and even then, which was by comparison a more innocent time, I was shocked at the power that we had and the ease of abusing it, and the system that was slowly getting out of control. So, even if you had good faith and you intended to be an honorable prosecutor, the very process by which you exercised discretion [was strained by] the increasing ambiguity of the law. It was harder and harder for people to know what was a crime. The criminal law used to be a series of oak trees that reached up into the sky and you would see them and behold them and contemplate on it—and they were usually descriptions of the Ten Commandments—don’t kill, don’t rape, don’t steal, don’t give false witnesses. Now, the law is like the blades of grass in a meadow—you can’t see them, you don’t identify with them and yet they have poisonous tips. If you just innocently walk along the field, you can end up legally poisoned—put in a cage.” – Tony Blankley, Washington Times

“I still embrace the theory of locking the cell door if an off ender has been convicted of a crime. But I don’t say throw the key away. I say, keep the key handy, so the same key that locked that door can also unlock it.” – Howard Coble, U.S. Representative, North Carolina

“In this whole thing, nobody is being soft on crime. … The system has a very strong tendency to change them [offenders] for the worse. Everybody knows that, I think. Our current system is fundamentally immoral.” – Chris Cannon, former U.S. Representative, Utah

“We can be tougher on the worst offenders, and protect Hoosiers more securely, while saving a billion dollars the next few years. Let’s seize this opportunity, without waiting.” – Mitch Daniels, Former Indiana Governor

“Perhaps if we focused more on redemption, rather than detention, the results would be different…Over the years we’ve managed to get the punishment part right, but what about the redemption part? Prisoners have few advocates and often feel abandoned and without hope. Clearly, there must be a better way when the number of incarcerated grows every year, along with the cost of warehousing them in places that serve as hot houses of despair and training academies for hardened criminals.” - Cal Thomas, Former Vice President of the Moral Majority and Fox News Commentator