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April 29 2019

Should Conservatives Continue to Embrace Criminal Justice Reform?

by Betsy Pearson

Jared Kushner’s “lessons learned” about criminal justice reform shows that some Republicans now see prison reform as a conservative issue. A few days ago in an oped for Time, Kushner laid out fifteen realizations he came to while working with the Trump administration on the First Step Act. As a typically liberal issue, criminal justice reform offers conservatives an opportunity to show that they don't fit liberal critiques as inhumane while also promoting economic prosperity.

Liberal platforms always include criminal justice reform issues. Conservatives have let them claim the issue. This leads to big government solutions and liberals portraying Republicans as uninterested in fighting injustices.

Democratic hopefuls have been hitting the campaign trails with problematic criminal justice reform records of their own. For example, Kamala Harris refused criminal justice reforms as district attorney and attorney general in California. Early on in her campaign for president she faced backlash from her past of upholding wrongful convictions and overlooking misconduct.

President Trump has been an ally of criminal justice reform advocates. Going into the making of the First Step Act, Kushner reveals that Trump was skeptical about working on this “liberal issue.” However, in the end he understood that he campaigned to fight for the forgotten men and women, and there is no better way than through criminal justice reform. As Kushner explains, “[Trumps] efforts helped tamp down opposition from the right and overcome key legislative roadblocks.”

Criminal justice reform is not purely a social issue--it is also an economic one. Taxes, health care, and jobs are all directly impacted by criminal justice in that state. The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) argues that “What is needed is a shift away from an attitude of punishment to an attitude of rehabilitation in our criminal justice system” to increase labor force participation.

Fighting for conservative economic legislation will positively help those who need it most, and save  money along the way. FEE calculates that we spend over$80 billion on incarceration every year--what sort of conservative spending plan is that? Tax dollars are funneled toward prison systems to fund incarceration for non-violent drug offenders and those affected by the opioid epidemic.

With proper reforms our justice system will be able to provide more effective (and less wasteful) help in order to reduce recidivism rates. A focus on rehabilitation should ultimately lead to a former inmate finding a job and contributing to the economy again.

More conservative lawmakers are hearing that message loud and clear. Last week Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Republican from Pennsylvania teamed up with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware to introduce the Clean Slate Act. The proposed bill would “automatically seal a person’s record i they had been convicted of possession of drugs, including heroin, as well as any nonviolent offense involving marijuana.” Both Representatives are from states suffering the devastating impact of the opioid crisis.

In his list of lessons, Jared Kushner put bipartisanship at the top of the list. Criminal justice reform should be a bipartisan issue, and I am hopeful for more bills like the Clean Slate Act to pop up as more conservatives get on board with these reforms.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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