In brilliant, must read article for Washington Monthly, reporters David Dagan and Steven M. Teles explain how “Right-wing operatives have decided that prisons are a lot like schools: hugely expensive, inefficient, and in need of root-and-branch reform.”
“Is this,” the authors ask, “how progress will happen in a hyper-polarized world?”
Well, perhaps so. Dagan and Teles do a good job of analyzing how government-drowning antitax activists like Grover Norquist are coming together with evangelicals and formerly tough-on-crime conservative advocates—and, in some cases, even (gasp) liberals—to take some solid steps in the direction of real criminal justice reform, with more potentially on the horizon.
Moreover, it is reform that liberal criminal justice advocates have been unable to accomplish on their own, nevermind that facts, common sense and a host of research was on their side.
Here’s how the story opens:
American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states. Once elected, these Republicans (and their Democratic imitators) built prisons on a scale that now exceeds such formidable police states as Russia and Iran, with 3 percent of the American population behind bars or on parole and probation.
Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich wrote in 2011. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
None of Gingrich’s rivals in the vicious Republican presidential primary exploited these statements. If anything, his position is approaching party orthodoxy. The 2012 Republican platform declares, “Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization.” What’s more, a rogue’s gallery of conservative crime warriors have joined Gingrich’s call for Americans to rethink their incarceration reflex. They include Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, William Bennett—even the now-infamous American Legislative Exchange Council. Most importantly, more than a dozen states have launched serious criminal justice reform efforts in recent years, with conservatives often in the lead.
Skeptics might conclude that conservatives are only rethinking criminal justice because lockups have become too expensive. But whether prison costs too much depends on what you think of incarceration’s benefits. Change is coming to criminal justice because an alliance of evangelicals and libertarians have put those benefits on trial. Discovering that the nation’s prison growth is morally objectionable by their own, conservative standards, they are beginning to attack it—and may succeed where liberals, working the issue on their own, have, so far, failed….
Read the rest.
LAPD UNION CHALLENGES DICK RIORDAN TO A DEBATE OVER HIS CONTROVERSIAL PENSION REFORM
Last month, former LA Mayor Richard Riordan proposed a ballot measure for the May 2013 election that would change the pension structure for all city employees, including police and firefighters. Without such reform, Riordan says, the city will soon face a cashflow nightmare.
As the LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron described it in his story on the topic:
The Riordan plan does three key things: forces people to contribute far more cash to their own retirement plans; places all future city hires — but not current employees — into a 401(k)-style system mimicking the private sector; and freezes automatic pension increases (now tied to salary increases) if the pension fund investments aren’t doing well.
Naturally the city’s labor unions are dead against the proposed measure, and they have some very valid points—which they fear are being drowned out by the former mayor’s appearances on local talk radio.
And so, on Tuesday afternoon, LAPPL president Tyler Izen challenged Riordan to a debate—-or rather a series of debates—on the pros and cons of the would-be ballot measure, which must have all its signatures gathered by December 7. Here’s a clip from the union’s statement:
“I am challenging Richard Riordan to three debates between now and December 7 because he has yet to offer any independent analysis that supports his wild claims. Riordan has chosen to hide behind carefully orchestrated radio talk show appearances where no challenging or insightful questions are asked, appearances before groups where he knows his ideas won’t be challenged, and well-crafted media releases that lack any pretense of substance,” said Izen.
We hope Riordan accepts.
Certainly some kind of pension reform is needed, but it must be the right plan, not merely something that Dick Riordan jams through because he can, and because it sounds good to a fed-up, and recession-worn public. (By the way, Joe Matthews writes for NBC “5 reasons” that Riordan’s plan won’t work.)
PETRAEUS SCANDAL ROUND UP – WLA STYLE:
Hey, we’re riveted too. So, with that in mind, three quickie stories you might not have seen yet:
1. FRIENDLY FIRE IN THE SPYING SECTOR
The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe writes about what happens when the “Surveillance State takes friendly fire.”
2. GOV’T REQUESTS FOR DATA GO UP, POST SCANDAL, SEZ GOOGLE
Over at Wired Magazine’s Threat Level blog, the Threatistas note that post-Petraeus scandal Google has released stats showing an uptick in government requests for data.
3. HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE INVOLVED
Back to the New Yorker again, Andy Borowitz helpfully explains how you can tell whether or not you are involved in the Petraeus scandal. (In case you’re concerned.) For instance, according to Borowitz, these are some questions that a CIA Public Information Officer recommends that you ask yourself:
“Have you ever met David Petraeus? Have you ever received and/or sent shirtless photos of an F.B.I. agent? Have you ever exchanged e-mails with Jill Kelley? Under five thousand pages of e-mails and you’re probably O.K., but anywhere between ten thousand and fifteen thousand pages of e-mails could potentially mean you’re involved in some way….”