One of the few people talking about the big picture of this trend is Dr. Keith Humphreys, who writes at The Reality-Based Community (a blog you should be following). Today he notes that part of the reason for this trend is that conservatives in states like Mississippi and South Carolina are getting on board and reforming their criminal justice systems. Take a look at the specifics of the bill recently signed into law in Mississippi:
These reforms enact in policy something we have known to be true for a long time: namely, what helps the offender get back on his feet, hold down a job, secure stable housing and stay clear of trouble is good for all Mississippians. HB585 expands and strengthens alternatives to prison, such as drug court, and builds a re-entry infrastructure so that offenders leaving prison will not only have a bus ticket but a plan to get their lives back on track.A lot of these changes are being spurred by conservative groups like Right on Crime. What's fascinating about this movement is that - while anti-science seems to be on the rise amongst conservatives - that site stresses the importance of best practice solutions and accountability for outcomes. Its a fascinating example of how pragmatism can reign when the solutions aren't dictated by ideology.
HB585 also ushers in long overdue reform to our drug and property sentences. The legislation narrows many of the broad sentence ranges that have bred disparity across our state for years and reduces the ceilings on low-level drug possession, drug sale and property crimes...
Instead, HB585 ensures we do not waste our most expensive public safety resource — prison beds — on offenders that can be safely and far more cost effectively supervised in the community or with shorter sentences followed by intensive parole supervision.
I am as frustrated as anyone by the lunacy that seems to have gripped the Republican Party these days. Knowing this doesn't change any of that. But the truth is that even in the harshest environment, something beautiful can grow. Its always good to notice.