Issues

Perry Calls for ‘Common Sense’ Reforms to Criminal Justice System

Rick Perry
Rick Perry / AP

In a new video released Wednesday, former Texas governor and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry called for prison and sentencing reforms to reduce incarceration rates in the United States.

"There’s a growing debate in America today about criminal justice reform and the best way to address individuals who’ve committed nonviolent offenses" Perry said in a video released by Right on Crime, a conservative criminal justice reform group. "Unfortunately, nationwide our intention has been centered on increasing prison populations rather than focusing on treatment and reentry for minor offenders."

Perry touted the success of reform efforts in Texas in the video. Facing a full prison system and a projected growth of 15,000 inmates over the next six years at a cost of $523 million, Texas in 2006 funneled money into treatment and diversion programs and gave prosecutors and judges increased latitude in sentencing.

According to the Washington Post, the prison population has dropped, as have violent crime, property crime, and recidivism rates, and the state has closed three prisons since.

"This approach has saved Texas taxpayers $2 billion," Perry said in the video. "Other states have the power to achieve similar results, which is why I’ve joined Right on Crime to help get this message out. Their focus on individual liberty, personal responsibility, transparency, and limited government is the foundation for reform that benefits all Americans."

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, Perry announced he was signing on to Right on Crime’s statement of principles in March. He joins other conservative movement figures such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another likely 2016 GOP candidate.

Over the past several years, a push for reform of the criminal justice system has gained momentum in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill. Advocacy groups on both sides of the political spectrum, from the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks to the liberal Center for American Progress, have also embraced such efforts.

Many former tough-on-crime Republicans and Democrats, including some in the crowded 2016 presidential field, have shifted positions as public opinion has swung in favor of rolling back strict sentencing laws.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2016, recently endorsed criminal justice reform efforts and renounced the tough-on-crime policies enacted during her husband’s administration in the mid-90s.

"Of the more than two million Americans incarcerated today, a significant percentage are low-level offenders, people held for violating parole or minor drug crimes or who are simply awaiting trial in courts," Clinton said in an April speech at Columbia University. "Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime but it does a lot to tear apart families and communities."

Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), another 2016 presidential candidate, has also been a strong supporter of criminal justice reform in the Senate, where he has sponsored several bills aimed at loosening federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, restoring voting rights for felons, and limiting law enforcement’s use of civil asset forfeiture to seize property.