Conservatives Find Liberal Allies for Justice Reform

A conservative website reports on justice reform and the bipartisan consensus.

What makes this story notable is that the Washington Free Beacon is reporting on it. I’ve known for awhile of a growing movement of Liberals and Conservatives cooperating together to try to reform the way criminals are punished in the United States. But what I haven’t been sure of is how deeply it has been embraced by most conservatives.

While I still don’t have an answer to that question, it does seem amazing that the Washington Free Beacon appears to be promoting this movement: “Criminal Justice Reform Movement Gaining Momentum.”

Looking out over the lunch crowd packed into a Marriott hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, David Simon, the creator of The Wire, must have felt a touch of the surreal.

“When I first started arguing against the drug war, you couldn’t have filled a room this large at an event like this,” Simon said from the stage. “There’d have been two tables, one filled with liberal Democrats and another with people to the left of them, and maybe William F. Buckley would have been by himself, not associating with anyone.”

Simon was addressing the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, a conference that featured such figures as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, and Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.).

Video messages were piped in from Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and from Govs. Rick Perry and John Kasich. Matt Kibbe, the president of the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks, was there, as was Mark Holden, Koch Industries’ point man on criminal justice issues.

Simon was followed on stage by Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, and at the end of the day, the summit screened a video of President Obama sitting down with Simon to talk about The Wire.

The summit was organized by Van Jones, the former Obama administration official and civil rights activist, and Newt Gingrich. “This thing has turned into Woodstock for criminal justice,” Jones said in a conference call a day before the summit. “People are going to look at photographs of this and swear it was photoshopped.”

[See also, “Rand Paul to GOP: Change or Put Dems in White House for Next Generation.”]

Cory Booker has joined Rand Paul in introducing a bill that would seal the records of non-violent offenders. Republican Senator Mike Lee has introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would cut the mandatory minimum sentences in half for non-violent drug offenses. Idaho Republican Representative Paul Labrador has introduced the same bill in the House.

While we need to deter crime, the prison industry is an obvious example of big government. It makes sense from a conservative perspective to try to limit it, so long as we don’t end up leaving people vulnerable to crime or encouraging people to commit crimes.

PS: For an example of the kind of sentencing that cries out for reform, see my post from February 24: “Judge Admits He Just Followed Orders.”