This commentary, written by Brandon Morse, originally appeared at RedState on June 29th, 2016.
I was recently invited to DC to take part in a get together on criminal justice reform, sponsored by FreedomWorks. I was excited to attend, because criminal justice reform is something I feel is going to be a huge issue in the future.
And why shouldn’t it be? Our current system is expensive, unhelpful, and too often unfair. We possess 5% of the world’s population, but manage to incarcerate 25% of the world’s prison population. That’s more than everybody else in the world.
In 1980, American taxpayers were spending $540 million on the incarceration of 24,000 federal inmates. Fast forward to 2016, and we’re spending over $6.9 BILLION on more than 218,000.
And half of these people are nonviolent drug offenders.
Right off the bat, you can see why we need justice reform, and that’s just some of the numbers I received while listening to the experts who came to speak to us. All in all, the punchline is that our prison system is costing far too much money with little return on our investment.
People get caught up in an overreaching system and are put away into overcrowded prisons – costing us billions – where they take up space and money, and then released back into society with little to no chance at regaining a normal life. Currently, our prison system does little to rehabilitate criminals. In fact, it seems to encourage further criminal activity. They’re released, only to commit more crimes, and wind up back in prison where we pay for their stay.
But change is already on the horizon, and it’s coming from Republicans and Libertarians. States like Texas are leading the charge for criminal justice reform.
Texas was facing over $2 billion in costs for building new prisons, but instead took a different route by identifying the causes of crime. Namely, drugs. By appropriating $241 million, Texas began diverting nonviolent drug offenders away from the prison system and into programs that rehabilitated offenders, and set them back on their feet.
Now, some may say this is a waste of money, and that these criminals would just reoffend once they were on their own. This is far from being the case. Recidivism took a dive, crime rates began to slack. In fact, Texas is at its lowest crime rate since 1968. Let’s not forget that Texans saved $3 billion dollars.
So justice reform works, and it could work for every other state as well. In fact, we could seriously use the Texas model on a federal level, where we currently spend $6.8 billion on prison costs. If we could decrease our federal spending on inmates and prisons, while lowering our crime rate, then this is a no-brainer.
But aside from costs and lowering our crime rates, justice reform needs to happen because the system has become dangerous to the everyday citizen. It’s a system that’s become bloated with laws and regulations that allow it to punish you and I strictly on suspicion of wrongdoing.
For instance, one of the most egregious breaches of government into our lives is civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to seize your belongings, strictly because they have reason to suspect you’re using said belongings to commit a crime. The 5th amendment doesn’t protect you with civil asset forfeiture, because YOU’RE not being charged with the crime…your belongings are.
None of the above I’ve listed here gives credence to a true land of the free, where we’re either bogged down by taxes to pay for those we lock up by the mother-load, or bogged down with over-criminalization that could turn any of us into law breakers at any moment.
As Republicans and Libertarians, this is a fight we should lead on.