The results are in, the ride over. The only thing that liberals and conservatives appear to agree on is prison reform. It’s hard to argue the issue when everyone has adopted one side of the argument. As commented on in this website many a time, everyone is for prison reform these days, with hardly a squeak from prison guard unions or District Attorneys’ offices. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “Conservatives latch onto prison reform” describes the depth of the adoption of criminal justice reform by conservative leaders and advocacy groups.
What that means to those who have fought for reform for a very long time, is that the stars are aligned in the heavens, and it’s time to push hard for real prison reform. That means, not only returning prisoners to their communities with alternative community-based sentences, but keeping offenders out of prison in the first place, with Pre-Entry Courts that provide an alternative to prison. Reentry courts, for returning high risk offenders, will clearly be a part of that reform package.
Yes, it’s time to demand reform, but it must be effective reform. If we mess this up, we could be waiting a very long time before we have another oppotunity. Everyone seems to favor alternatives to prison, but little is said of what alternatives we speak, their efficacy, or cost-effectiveness. Our greatest fear shouldn’t be that we will send prisoners home to poorly funded prison alternatives and find they don’t work. One thing worse that underfunding prison alternatives, is building a criminal justice system on the rotting structure of the exisiting one. Clearly reform needs to be built from the ground up, rather than funding existing programs that have never proven their worth, or worse, been found to be counter-productive. Reform has to be built on sound scientific evidence, based on decades of unassailable research, and memorialized in such publications as the Center for Effective Public Policy’s “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices” (see Cont: Evidence Based Practices Point the Way).