The ACLU as a nice report out, highlighting how even the more conservative states are embracing sentencing reform as a way of saving money on incarceration. It highlights reforms in Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio.
The NYT expands on the issue, including analysis of support from traditionally right wing figures such as Reagan’s AG Edwin Meese.
The movement has attracted the support of several prominent conservatives, including Edwin R. Meese III, the attorney general during the Reagan administration. He is part of a campaign, called “Right on Crime,” which was begun last December to lend weight to what it calls the “conservative case for reform.”
“I’d call it a careful refining of the process,” Mr. Meese said. “Most of us who are involved in this are very much in favor of high incarceration of serious habitual offenders. The whole idea is getting the right people in prison, and for those people for whom there is evidence that chances of recidivism are less, to work with those people.”
Other Republican affiliates of the group include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Grover Norquist, an antitax activist; Asa Hutchinson, a former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and William J. Bennett, a former White House “drug czar.”
The idea that the system should be designed to incarcerate those for whom it is appropriate, but only those, is a powerful one, and is, in my opinion, perhaps the most persuasive argument for effective public defense. It is far from clear that effective defense reduces the total number of sentences in a system, but it does help make sure that the system is making decisions about how to allocate scarce incarceration resources based on as much information as possible. (And, of course, keeps the system honest and minimizes incarceration of the innocent.)
But overall this perspective would suggest greater resources being put into pre-sentence investigation, social work by defense programs, addition of incarceration alternatives, etc.
It also suggests that discretion should be put back into transparent institutions such as courts, rather than hidden in the non-transparent prosecution function, where it is put by mandatory sentencing schemes.