I feel like that crazy scientist in the disaster movies, who has been running around for years saying that the conservatives will get out front on prison reform, because (1) it will cost too much to continue and (2) the carnage of prisons will no longer be hidden in their neck of the woods.
Zoom in camera on my stoic face as unexploded bombs fall from the sky behind me… “It has begun.”
Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan co-authored a Washington Post Op-ed that brings attention to their new initiative, Right On Crime, that is taking hold in 20 states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and Connecticut in the Northeast. Some will be skeptical of their motives, particularly when the core group consists of principal architects of the Prison Industrial Complex as we know it. Reagan’s AG Ed Meese, former drug czar Asa Hutchinson, and professor John Dilulio, key player in the “Faith Based Initiatives” and coined the myth of juvenile “superpredators” which never cam true despite its policy implications on juvenile incarceration.
After Pat Robertson recently instructed his flock about our incredibly misguided prison and drug policies, newly-elected Governor Cuomo sent a serious salvo over the bow of the New York Correctional Officers’ union- by saying “Prisons are not Jobs”in his inaugural address. The planets are aligning for a plate tectonic shift in policy. Ironically, the Conservatives (and others) are using the same arguments others have been using for decades. And in Rhode Island, where three champions of prison policy reform have left the Statehouse, it remains to be seen who will emerge to become the new “Usual Suspects.” And will it be so usual?
“The Right on Crime Campaign represents a seismic shift in the legislative landscape. And it opens the way for a common-sense left-right agreement on an issue that has kept the parties apart for decades.” Gingrich, freed from Power, is taking a key step to find this agreement space. I had wondered if it would begin with a Ron Paul – Dennis Kucinich “fringe” bipartisan core, but it makes more sense to start outside the pearly halls of Congress. People need to get over the “who said it” reactionary hate… like when Obama commented on a high profile business owner hiring a high profile employee with a felony record. Just look at facts…
Right On Crime cites work in Connecticut that was pushed by grassroots organizations such as A Better Way Foundation (who also led their successful Ban the Box bill), but largely opposed by conservatives and moderates on both sides of the aisle. Likewise in RI, a revived bill to limit probation violations to the time remaining (first introduced by Segal in 2007) would likely get a Right On Crime seal of approval- and possibly the sort of bipartisan support that could become the legacy of Gov. Chaffee’s independent administration. Chaffee can easily move to save Rhode Island $37million in prison budget; but he may be awaiting that sort of full-spectrum support to alleviate controversy and pushback from a 1500-member Correctional Officer union earning millions in overtime (their opposition to every reform is understandable). It is worth noting that the unions who win elections (SEIU, Nurses, Teachers, UNITE) are not particularly known for their “Lock Em Up” mentality.
Gingrich has been developing this awareness and involvement over the past few years, although there is no word on his opinion of the recent Georgia prisoner strike. Community members and politicians are intervening in Georgia, and I am told have actually seen photos of the abuse from prison guards (particularly the retaliation upon some deemed leaders of the peaceful refusal to leave their cells and work). Newt could still join over 3000 people who signed a Petition of Solidarity with the prisoners. Stay tuned for the involvement of Illinois congressman Danny Davis, which could jumpstart Senator Jim Webb’s bipartisan, bicameral bill to form a Blue Ribbon Commission to suggest an overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Despite passing the House, and passing the Senate Judiciary (where Sheldon Whitehouse is a co-sponsor), Harry Reid would not hold a floor vote. Prison reformers across the nation, and those who compose the Prison “Industrial” Complex (i.e. make their living off some slice of it, good or bad), eagerly await this new Congress. The Right On Crime initiative, along with the past 20 years of mainstream Democrats’ Tough On Crime trench-digging, proves that nothing is dead in the water. Organizations like DARE, who have spent 25 years often fighting Conservatives, remain distinctly unaffiliated with political parties, and are now seeing support for their “radical” proposals. It might be interesting to see who begins to invite their knowledge and expertise to the table.
- Tony Newman: Newt Gingrich Agrees With Pat Robertson: Our Prisons Must Be Reformed (huffingtonpost.com)
- GOP Leaders Speak Out for Prison Reform: First Rev. Pat Robertson and Now Newt Gingrich (alternet.org)
- Unions Say Gov. Cuomo Wrong On Juvenile Prisons (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Georgia Prisoners Allege Abuse, Get Beaten with Hammers (criminaljustice.change.org)
- Prisoners Are America’s Strongest Union [Strikes] (gawker.com)