A recent article in the Weekly Standard proclaims the Republican Party the “party of prison reform.” The story looks at a number of conservative legislators and policy makers who are actively pushing for changes in the current correctional system, including reducing prison populations, improving reentry opportunities, and mental health reforms.
Traditionally, such reforms have been interpreted as liberal in nature, contrary to the long-perceived conservative narrative of being “tough on crime.” The conservative lawmakers in the article, however, view things differently.
“Everything we did was rooted in true conservative values of [being] pro-family, changing offender behavior, and saving money,” says Jim Seward, General Counsel for South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard. South Dakota recently enacted sweeping reforms of the corrections systems in that state, with a goal of significantly reducing the prison population.
“This is not about being hard or soft on crime,” says Daugaard, “This is about being smart on crime.”
Other conservative legislators express a dual motivation for seeking reform. “As a fiscal conservative, it just made sense to me. We spend a lot on prisons,” says Maryland state representative Michael Hough. “On a human level, I know that people sometimes just get trapped in addiction.”
The article specifically mentions the role Prison Fellowship has played in encouraging evangelical conservatives to embrace the issue of reform:
Judeo-Christian commandments to care for prisoners have no doubt been a significant part of the reform movement, as evidenced by the prominent role that Prison Fellowship Ministries has played in nearly all the efforts. The organization was founded by the late Charles Colson and counts a bevy of distinguished conservative pols (including [former Justice Fellowship president Pat] Nolan, a former Republican leader in the California legislature) among its staff and supporters.
It is encouraging to see more and more elected officials – of both parties – stepping forward to bring about needed reforms. The truth of the matter is that these changes are going to require both Republicans and Democrats working together with a shared objective of reducing crime and recidivism, while lowering administrative costs. Christians in government have the added motivation to see lives transformed, families reunited, and the Church blessed by the changes made.
Justice Fellowship is committed to bringing about needed reforms in the justice system on both the state and national levels. To find out more about the work of Justice Fellowship, and how you can be involved, visit www.justicefellowship.org.