State and local governments must be empowered to move toward rehabilitation programs that are best for their communities. Hawaii, for example, pioneered the HOPE Court, a community court that constantly drug-tests offenders and informs them that they will be immediately incarcerated if they fail. In the HOPE Court, positive drug screens have been reduced by 91 percent, and revocations and new arrests have been cut by two-thirds.
Further, corrections funding must be performance-based. Additional funding for corrections agencies must be given as a reward for reducing recidivism rates, not simply on the basis of the volume of prisoners they house. Similarly, prisons and community corrections programs should be evaluated on the number of discharged offenders who are less of a threat to public safety than when they entered.
Conservative principles don’t have to change to make the criminal-justice system successful, but the stance conservative leaders take must. There is no reason that conservatives should be tied to the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” strategy; rather, we must stand for the very principles of limited government, federal accountability, and reduced spending that our forefathers effectively deployed. I ask my fellow conservative leaders to reconsider the “tough on crime” approach so that we can cost-effectively increase public safety.
— Grover Norquist is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and a signer of the Right on Crime Statement of Principles.