We know that the issue of reentry often transcends party lines. Here is some additional context from the perspective of reentry on the right side of the spectrum. Recently, Politico profiled people who have generated influential ideas in American politics and government. One of the people on this list is Marc Levin. The Politico profile of Levin called him the “conservative prison reformer.”
During the 1988 presidential campaign, supporters of George H.W. Bush ran an iconic attack ad starring a convicted murderer named Willie Horton that cemented the image of Democrats as “soft on crime” and inspired three decades of Republican calls for increased prison capacity and mandatory minimum sentences. But in recent years, as national crime rates plummeted and American prisons became increasingly overcrowded, the GOP has started to abandon its lock ’em up mantra, a major shift that can be traced in no small part to a Texas attorney named Marc Levin. To Levin, 38, the principles of prison reform are grounded not in progressivism but in the ideals of limited government, individual liberty and fiscal restraint. In 2010, Levin co-founded the advocacy group Right on Crime to encourage reforms like eliminating mandatory sentences for low-level crimes and easing penalties for parole violations. Rather than emphasizing victims’ rights, long a cause célèbre of the left, Levin argued reform was a matter of getting the best return on taxpayer money at a time when violent crime around the country had declined for nearly two decades straight, yet the United States had by far the world’s highest prison rate: 716 people for every 100,000—or nearly five times that of England. His ideas are starting to break through: Between 2011 and 2013, 17 states—roughly half of them governed by Republicans—closed or considered closing a total of more than 60 correctional facilities, and the prison population is finally declining for the first time in two decades. The string of GOPers lining up behind Levin includes Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and even hard-line Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has personally credited Levin for his “leadership on this critical issue” (even though Texas still has the country’s largest state prison population). With Republicans and Democrats at a standoff on just about every other issue, prison reform has emerged over the past year as a rare bipartisan cause. In fact, it’s now so popular across the political spectrum, both parties are increasingly debating who should get credit for it. Which is where Levin, and years of making the conservative case, come in. “You want to talk about real conservative governance?” Perry said this spring. “Shut prisons down.”
Further transcendence of reentry issues along the political spectrum is highlighted in a recent New York Times story, North Carolina Cuts Jail Time for Probation Violators, and Costs. Neither political politics nor partisanship is mentioned in the story from North Carolina, a strong Republican state. Yet the message is clear. A state corrections study showed that
[m]ore than half of all prison admissions involved offenders whose probation had been revoked. And in a large majority of those cases, the offenders had not committed any serious new crime but rather had committed so-called technical violations: missed appointments, failed drug tests, failure to attend drug treatment. ‘We were filling very expensive prison beds with low-level felons for technical probation violations,’ said W. David Guice, the commissioner of adult corrections and juvenile justice.
Following a criminal justice reform package that passed a Republican legislature and was signed by a Democratic governor,
[p]rison admissions have declined by 21 percent in three years, to 23,000 in the year that ended June 30, 2014, down from 29,000 in 2011, according to state data. The overall prison population shrank over the same three years to 38,000, and 10 prisons have closed, although significant further declines in prisoner numbers do not appear likely. The adult corrections budget, instead of rising as once projected, has dropped by $50 million per year, officials say.