Are Conservatives Reforming Criminal Justice?

Source: General Social Survey

“Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration.” That’s the subtitle of a new book, Prison Break, and a related panel last week at the American Enterprise Institute. The first word speaks volumes: the issue isn’t “whether” but rather “why” the right joined the justice-reform movement.

“Today’s conservative positions could not be more different” from those of the 1980s and 1990s, reiterated Steven M. Teles, a coauthor of the book, during the event. A flyer even referred to the “conservative-led prison reform movement.”

There’s some truth to these claims. Over the past decade, conservative intellectuals have put together a compelling case for reducing incarceration, and they have had some success promoting their agenda to red-state governments. But contrary to the popular narrative, their arguments have not yet won the day with everyday conservatives or even with many legislators. In fact, measured by opinion polls and changes in state imprisonment rates, liberals are still decisively leading on this issue.

Certainly there are good reasons to roll back our most punitive policies. As conservative reformers note, the U.S. imprisonment rate has grown dramatically since the late 1970s—a trend that began as an understandable and effective reaction to high crime but that continued past the point of diminishing returns.

These reformers eschew the throw-open-the-prison-gates mentality of some on the left. “You have to realize that the crime problem was real—and still is real in many regards—and it’s completely irresponsible to talk about this issue without talking about the crime problem,” said Vikrant P. Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute, one of the leading conservative reformers (and a TAC contributor) at the AEI event. Instead, Reddy and his allies champion a suite of cautious, moderate reforms, and they root their arguments in conservative principles such as a distrust of government power, a desire to reduce spending, and sometimes a religious belief in redemption.

This phenomenon—prominent conservatives taking up what was long seen as a liberal cause—yields the heartwarming story of a “bipartisan consensus” we can celebrate and whose “why” we can explore. Pointing to significant reforms in Texas, of all places, conservatives can even brag about “leading” the charge for reduced incarceration. But much is left out of this narrative, some of which emerged at the event last week.

Naturally, there was a designated critic of the reform consensus there: Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, who, while lauding the desire to find alternatives to prison, challenged the idea that we can release many current prisoners without threatening public safety. (Disclosure: Mac Donald advised me during a journalism fellowship I held in 2009.)

But there was also the deeper question of whether a consensus really exists. During a Q&A session, Paul Mirengoff of the blog Power Line noted a federal sentencing-reform bill that has struggled to win the support of congressional Republicans. In response, David Dagan, Prison Break’s other coauthor, advanced the theory that it’s actually easier to fix sentencing in deep-red states than at the federal level because one-party control opens up …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Give Grace to Moms

Many parents have experienced that fearful moment when their child, who they assumed was right behind them, or right over there—is not, in fact, where they should be.

As Jeffrey Kluger put it for Time Magazine, children “are the electrons in the nuclear family—kinetic, frenetic, seemingly occupying two or three places at the same moment, and drawn irresistibly to the most dangerous things in their environment.”

Meanwhile, parents are set up as anxious stewards, ever trying to monitor their space, ever trying to grow “eyes in the back of their heads.” It’s no wonder that helicopter parenting has become a problem—none of us want to become that “what if” story.

Sadly, one mother on Saturday had the misfortune and almost-tragedy of becoming that “what if” story. Namely: what happens if your little boy slips away from you at the zoo?

A four-year-old boy managed to separate himself from his mother, climb over a three-foot barrier and slip through the four feet of bushes separating spectators from a gorilla habitat. He then fell 15 feet into the shallow pool of water right below the gorilla’s position. Zoo officials attempted to call in the animals, and the two female gorillas complied.

But Harambe, the male, did not. He was distracted, eyewitnesses say, by the splashing of the little boy and the frenzied concern of the gathering crowd. He got into the water and approached the boy—at first, in a seemingly protective way. But when he began to drag the boy around in the water violently, zoo officials decided the only safe course of action was to shoot the gorilla. To tranquillize him with a dart, they explained later, would have been a perilous and almost assuredly life-ending choice for the boy. It takes much longer for the tranquilizer to take calm an agitated gorilla—and in the meantime, the sting of any such dart would anger the animal, leading him to associate that pain with the nearest possible source of pain (in this case, the four-year-old).

Despite the circumstances explained by multiple sources, public outrage has been uproarious indeed. Some have said that the gorilla was merely “protecting” the boy, and that the zoo officials should not have shot him. Others have accused the Cincinatti zoo of endangering, in the words of animal activist Michael A. Budkie, “both the public and Harambe by maintaining an enclosure which allowed a member of the public to gain access to a potentially dangerous animal.” (Though it is worth noting that no incident of this sort had ever happened before.) On Twitter, PETA argued that this case demonstrates why animals never should be held in captivity in the first place. In response to these accusations, Cincinnati police are now investigating the incident, to determine whether “charges need to be brought forward.”

It is not clear whether charges brought forward would be against the zoo, or the mother—because she’s under heavy fire right now, too. A petition argued for “an …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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We Don’t Need Grand National Projects

David Brooks is worried about our lack of zeal for national greatness:

I’d say that in America today some of the little loves are fraying, and big love is almost a foreign language. Almost nobody speaks about the American project in the same ardent tones that were once routine.

One reason that no one speaks about “the American project” in this way is that it has become outdated. What Brooks refers to was an artifact of the postwar era in which institutions were highly respected, political authorities were viewed as competent and trustworthy (whether they were or not), and the experience of a major war drastically altered the relationship between the government and the people. We still have smaller wars of choice that demand almost nothing of all but a few Americans, but those wars are fought by a volunteer force for bad or dubious causes under the leadership of at best semi-competent politicians that we didn’t trust very much in the first place. On top of all that, our most recent experience with “ardent” rhetoric about “the American project” left Americans with ashes in our mouths thanks to the debacle in Iraq (among other places). If this is where that sort of thinking leads (and it is), most Americans would rather avoid it. This isn’t a bad or unhealthy thing. If most Americans didn’t distrust failed leaders and institutions after the last twenty years, there would be something seriously wrong with us.

Brooks’ classification of “big” and “little” loves gets things backwards. For one thing, a person loves his country in large part because of his experience of and affection for the “little” personal and local attachments that he has at home. The “big” love of patriotism isn’t even possible without all of the other “little” ones, and in terms of how important it is to us that “big” love is the smallest, least significant love that exists to encourage us to protect all of the things that actually matter. The large institutions and political constructs that Brooks identifies with “big” loves are the things to which people have the fewest and weakest attachments, and it would be strange and worrisome if it were otherwise. If those attachments are weaker than they used to be, that isn’t necessarily something that needs to be fixed. Most people don’t love “grand historical projects,” because it is not normal to love something so abstracted from ordinary experience. More to the point, we have no need for such large-scale, ambitious projects today, and pursuing them for their own sake serves no purpose except to bloat government budgets and create white elephants to drain our resources in the future.

Brooks’ anxiety about Americans’ lack of enthusiasm for large national projects (and he often talks about them explicitly as projects) is a longstanding one. He started arguing for the importance of national greatness for the last twenty years, and ever since he keeps coming back to the theme that Americans need a big enterprise to which …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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The Life-Saving Virtue Of Patience

Here’s an absolutely extraordinary letter from a reader:

I am writing you because three years ago, I was almost murdered. (Yes, I know that’s a grim topic, but trauma can still bring insight nonetheless. Please if you use this email, keep my name anonymous as it is my email. ). Three years ago at the age of 24, I was almost beat to death in a bar in the town where I went to college. My entire face was broken. All of it, essentially. The best example to illustrate the damage that I can give is crushing wet cubes of ice to bits. My attacker got a light felony sentence: two months in jail.

The injury caused severe nerve pain. I was on a serious concoction of a myriad of different opioids- including morphine for around a year. I stopped taking the pills because my body was starting to fail: I was unable to defecate or urinate and nearly lost my ability to breathe. The morphine withdrawals were far far far far far worse than nearly getting murdered and far more horrifying because of the complete social isolation of the trauma. Simply put when you have opioid withdrawals you do so alone; you go out to the fields away from the herd to die alone because nobody cares to know what’s happening. Luckily, I was able to survive that as well with the help of God whose presence I felt when I was vomiting and puking my brains during the withdrawals. Later, I was able to forgive my attacker because of God working in me.

I spent two years unable to maintain full time work due to trigmenial neuralagia which is a severe type of nerve pain. Why this even matters is because when you become down and out- a modern leper if you will- you learn a great deal about the state of man and society writ large. This letter is one of despair, not in God’s plan, but in the societal and cultural black hole emerging. I wish to discuss a few themes: let down and how to respond when you’re wronged.

Currently America is in a state of pure shock and has no hope to latch onto because we have abandoned all societal networks. All I see in our society is only despair and trembling. There is no hope for the system, most people have long ago abandoned. There is no hope in the dreams of most Americans. The christian notion of pain or suffering being redemptive is long gone from most, pain, instead, has become an object of derision. There is no presumption that pain has a higher telos or end, it’s simply something to be avoided and reduced for the individual that encounters it. This absence of finding meaning in pain has profound consequences for society writ large. First off, the stock response to pain or let down or any type of hardship has become to lash out in moral superiority-e.g. the Sanders campaign or Trump whenever someone says …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Will Social Conservatism Survive Trump?

John McCormack at the Weekly Standard has a good piece asking whether social conservatives will be discredited by the Trump phenomenon. He begins by asking if social conservatives should vote for Trump, despite everything. Princeton’s Robbie George says the only thing that could justify such a vote is the Supreme Court — a huge reason, he says, but it’s not an open-and-shut case. More:

“What really concerns me about social conservatives, especially people like Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson—I’d include Bill Bennett in this—are people who have written books about the importance of character,” says Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“Evangelical social conservatives are going to lose any cachet in bringing up character questions in the future about anything,” Cromartie says. “They’re just going to lose all credibility.” Cromartie is holding on to a glimmer of hope for a third-party candidate that he can vote for in good conscience.

Maggie Gallagher, the former president of the National Organization for Marriage who now works at the American Principles Project, is another social conservative leader who has already decided that she can’t vote for Trump in November. “The degradation is certain and the benefit is so uncertain that I could not persuade myself to do it,” says Gallagher. Trump lost Gallagher during a debate in March when “the guy who wants to sit in the White House started voluntarily discussing his genitals on national television.”

Gallagher says that supporting “a guy who says crude, disgusting, hateful-to-women, highly sexualized, racist things that violate American principles” would “establish that we don’t care about any of those things.” She fears that a Trump presidency could do more to hurt the conservative project in the long-run than a Hillary Clinton Supreme Court appointment.

I see what Cromartie and Gallagher are getting at, but I have a couple of skeptical questions.

To Gallagher, whose views on Trump’s character I completely share, I would ask: what is the “conservative project”? I don’t want to see a trade war with China either, but it sounds to me like her assumption is that the old Reagan-era coalition of free marketers + national security conservatives + anti-statist libertarians + social conservatives still stands. It does not. After the Indiana RFRA, I consider Big Business the open enemy of my interests as a Christian conservative. That does not mean trade was is something to be desired, but it does make me even more skeptical of anything Big Business wants (and I was skeptical anyway). The “conservative project” is dead.

For Cromartie, to what extent do Evangelicals have any credibility on matters of public policy anymore? I don’t ask it in a hostile way, heaven knows, but it’s not clear to me that Evangelicals, speaking as Evangelicals, have much influence to preserve. Is this a way of saying, “If we support Trump, they will kick us out of the public square?” Sounds like it. But has this not already happened? If social and …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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View From Your Table

Lyon, France

Lyon, France

M. l’Avocat continues his French holiday, describing his and his beautiful wife’s lunch:

Baguette, St-Marcellin cheese, goat cheese with ash, a mild Roquefort, mixed fresh olives, demi-sel butter, cherries, dates, goose rillette, two kinds of saucisson Lyonnaises and a pâte´ de canard en croute — like Bourdain showed off — and an adult Beaujolais expertly recommended by a wine-store guy to match the food. Eaten over 90 minutes in our apartment (half the price of a hotel) while listening to Charlie Parker.

…read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Economist: Don’t believe Obama, Clinton economic spin. Today’s America is no paradise

To listen to Barack Obama, Americans live in a liberal paradise—a robust recovery boasting 74 consecutive months of jobs growth and a federal government focused on promoting social justice. …read more

Via:: Fox Opines


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