Conservative Prison Policies are Ridiculous

By · Friday, March 20th, 2009

Duke Cunningham was a Republican congressman who now serves a lengthy prison term. Ted Stevens was a Republican senator from Alaska who was convicted of crimes that will yield a prison term. Scooter Libby was a key player in the Bush white house. Had it not been for executive clemency, he would have been but one more disgraced conservative who softened his views on the absurdity of long-term imprisonment for non-violent offenses.

There is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy when it comes to conservative viewpoints on confinement. When Republicans find themselves exposed to the wrath of the criminal justice system, they instantly find the wisdom of liberalism. Christina West, a criminal justice student, asked whether I thought prison reforms could include some kind of balance to appease conservative views that call for long prison sentences.

I do not think it is wise for American citizens to call for long prison sentences. Instead, they should call for an effective prison system. The conservative system of long-term imprisonment is one that is rife with corruption, and one that does not serve the interests of our enlightened society.

George Monbiot reported on Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. They were two conservative judges recently convicted of ordering the imprisonment of 2,000 people in Pennsylvania in exchange for bribes from private prison companies. I doubt those conservatives argued for long-term imprisonment in their cases.

As Justice Kennedy stated, America confines too many people and American prisoners serve sentences taht are too long. We need prison reforms that will change the way we measure justice. Rather than the number of years or decades that an individual serves in a cage, we ought to measure justice in terms of an individual’s efforts to reconcile with society through merit. Those who earn freedom should not remain in prison for periods that are longer than necessary.

Statistics from the Pew Report show that Americans waste billions each year on corrections. Yet the longer society exposes an offender to corrections, the less likely that indivudal is to function upon release. The only people punished by long-term imprisonment seem to be the taxpayers who fund the system. The offender adjusts. Yet citizens must cope with lost resources for education, health care, and useful social programs. They must also struggle with the high recidivism that follows the myopic management of policies managed by vengeance.

This system needs reform. Prisons should only confine those who present a threat to society. For other offenders, society ought to demand alternative sanctions.

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