Statement of Principles

A crucial part of the Right on Crime initiative is our Statement of Principles on conservative criminal justice reform, signed by over 90 of the most influential figures in the conservative movement.

As members of the nation’s conservative movement, we strongly support constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. We believe public safety is a core responsibility of government because the establishment of a well-functioning criminal justice system enforces order and respect for every person’s right to property and life, and ensures that liberty does not lead to license.

Conservatives correctly insist that government services be evaluated on whether they produce the best possible results at the lowest possible cost, but too often this lens of accountability has not focused as much on public ! policies as other areas of government. As such, corrections spending has expanded to become the second fastest growing area of state budgets—trailing only Medicaid.

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. A clear example is our reliance on prisons, which serve a critical role by incapacitating dangerous offenders and career criminals but are not the solution for every type of offender. And in some instances, they have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders—making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered.

Applying the following conservative principles to criminal justice policy is vital to achieving a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers.

  1. As with any government program, the criminal justice system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results in protecting the public, lowering crime rates, reducing re-offending, collecting victim restitution and conserving taxpayers’ money.
  2. Crime victims, along with the public and taxpayers, are among the key “consumers” of the criminal justice system; the victim’s conception of justice, public safety, and the offender’s risk for future criminal conduct should be prioritized when determining an appropriate punishment.
  3. The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment—both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons.
  4. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.
  5. Because incentives affect human behavior, policies for both offenders and the corrections system must align incentives with our goals of public safety, victim restitution and satisfaction, and costeffectiveness, thereby moving from a system that grows when it fails to one that rewards results.
  6. Criminal law should be reserved for conduct that is either blameworthy or threatens public safety, not wielded to grow government and undermine economic freedom.
  7. These principles are grounded in time-tested conservative truths—constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and the centrality of the family and community. All of these are critical to addressing today’s criminal justice challenges. It is time to apply these principles to the task of delivering a better return on taxpayers’ investments in public safety. Our security, prosperity, and freedom depend on it.


  • Chuck Colson (1931–2012), Prison Fellowship Ministries—In Memoriam
  • Kevin Kane (1966-2016), Pelican Institute for Public Policy (LA)—In Memoriam
  • Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida
  • Robert Ehrlich, Former Maryland Governor
  • Luis Fortuño, Former Puerto Rico Governor
  • Mike Huckabee, Former Arkansas Governor
  • Asa Hutchinson*, Governor of Arkansas;Former U.S. Attorney and Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Rick Perry, Former Governor of Texas
  • Bill Haslam, Former Governor of Tennessee
  • Jeff Aftwater, Former Florida Senate President
  • Bob Barr, Former Prosecutor, Former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Georgia’s 7th District
  • Ken Bell, Former Florida Supreme Court Justice
  • Allan Bense, Former Speaker of the Florida House
  • Ken Blackwell, Former Ohio Secretary of State
  • Dean Cannon, Former Florida Speaker
  • Allison DeFoor, Former Florida Judge and Sheriff of Monroe County
  • Jim DeMint, Former South Carolina Senator
  • Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice President of Advocacy & Public Policy of Prison Fellowship, Former Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives
  • Don Gaetz, Former Florida Senate President
  • Andy Gardner, Former Florida Senate President
  • Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives; American Solutions for Winning the Future
  • Mike Haridopolis, Former Florida Senate President
  • Bernard Kerik, Former New York City Police Commissioner
  • Jerry Madden, Former Chairman, Texas House of Representatives Corrections Committee
  • Simone Marstiller, Former Florida District Court of Appeals Judge
  • B.J. Nikkel, Former House Republican Majority Whip, Colorado House of Representatives
  • Kris Steele, Former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
  • Wansley Walters, Former Secretary, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
  • J.C. Watts, Former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Oklahoma’s 4th District
  • Will Weatherford, Former Speaker of the Florida House
  • Pat Nolan, Former Republican Leader of the California State Assembly
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