Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has signed on to a groundbreaking criminal justice reform movement aimed at increasing transparency, lowering recidivism rates, and making sure that criminal laws on the books actually promote a safer society—and not bigger government.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Right on Crime” initiative has been making moves to combine small government, conservative principles with efforts to fix an overcrowded, underfunded, and mismanaged corrections system. Over the years they have secured the endorsements of high profile conservatives committed to bringing problems with the criminal justice system out of obscurity and into the spotlight.

From TPPF:

Governor Perry joins 80 prominent conservative leaders who have endorsed the principles of conservative criminal justice reform, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, current Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, and many others.

“Both Republicans and Democrats are talking about criminal justice, but very few elected officials have made the kind of impact on criminal justice issues that Rick Perry has,” said Brooke Rollins, President at CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “As Governor, he was responsible for the sweeping reforms that, in addition to lowering crime rates and saving taxpayers money, made ‘the Texas model’ on criminal justice—as well as the Right on Crime campaign—possible. That model is the great example we’ve been able to tout across the country. We look forward to his continued leadership on this issue.”

That “Texas Model” has served as a blueprint for corrections overhauls in places like Mississippi, South Dakota, and Georgia, and as proof to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that being tough on crime doesn’t necessarily mean dumping money into a rapidly expanding prison system.

Here’s what Perry had to say about the program:

During my leadership as governor, Texas shut down three prisons, and we saved taxpayers $2 billion. When I left office, Texas had the lowest crime rate in our state since 1968. My administration started treatment programs and drug courts for people who wouldn’t be served well by sitting behind bars. We made sure our parole and probation programs were strong. Most of all, we evaluated prisons based on whether they got results. Did an ex-offender get locked up again? Did he get a job? Is he paying restitution to his victims? In Texas, we believe in results.

These are questions that all conservatives should be asking when they look at how the corrections system works in their community. More bodies in cells doesn’t necessarily translate to less crime on the streets, because many of those bodies were put in those cells for the wrong reasons. The experts at Right on Crime explain:

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 safety 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.

Seems like common sense right? And this type of thinking is spreading throughout all points on the political spectrum. Right on Crime recently joined the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, and other conservative groups to form the Coalition for Public Safety and fight for prison population reduction and sentencing reform.

On the federal level, Texas Senator John Cornyn has spearheaded a bipartisan effort to implement recidivism reduction programs with the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (CORRECTIONS) Act*. It’s based off of the Texas model (and reforms successfully implemented in Rhode Island) and aims to save millions of taxpayer dollars by allowing qualifying offenders to work off time behind bars by participating in a reoffender reduction program.

What we’re looking at is a new system that operates based on the nature of the offender, and not on a rigid, mandatory sentencing and release structure. Ballooning prison populations prove that those rigid systems don’t work—so why not give the Texas Model a try?

*You can follow the bill’s progress here.


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