This commentary originally appeared in Otherwise on May 20, 2015.
In a new column for The New Republic released on Monday, Stephen Lurie correctly acknowledges that our sprawling criminal justice system has recently enjoyed widespread attention from lawmakers and policy houses—Republican and Democrat alike—who are interested in reform. Having realized that the decades-old “tough on crime” stance has led to spiraling prison populations, disproportionate sentencing for crime (particularly non-violent drug offenses), and mounting costs, there is a bipartisan push on to seek solutions that will address these persistent issues. Reforms ought to make the justice system more equitable and efficient, but should always be performed with an eye towards preserving the public safety.
Such has been the mission of Right on Crime since its inception in late 2010. Our raison d’etre is to “fight crime, support victims, and protect taxpayers.” We don’t place special significance on any single objective to the detriment of the others, believing it possible to achieve harmony between them all with every potential reform we support.
Which is why it’s unfortunate that Lurie frames our desired goals as being primarily concerned with “fiscal responsibility” and that the drive for reform in general is cast in such “conservative terms” like “cutting costs, saving funds, and minimizing the size of the system.” While such concerns are indeed important, Lurie’s prevailing argument appears to be that the fiscal impact of our unwieldy justice system is the sole concern of those interested in reform, but this would be an unfair indictment, as I hope to show.
Right on Crime has many other concerns beyond fiscal considerations that guide our policy recommendations. A deeper look at our statement of principles reveal other beliefs that we prize in a justice system: transparency, performance measures that hold it accountable for its results, and that criminal law “should be reserved for conduct that is either blameworthy or threatens public safety.” As alluded to earlier, preserving public safety is important as well, 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.”
Again, we believe that all of these principles, including a responsibility of protecting taxpayer resources, are of equal import.