Since the late 1960s, the Republican party has used fear of crime to win elections. Now, the party seems prepared to use compassion for non-violent criminals to do the same. With new Republican champions of judicial reform and lawmakers backing two bills aimed at rolling back punishments for low-risk offenders, Republicans are ready to show compassion in 2014.
It's not just libertarian Sen. Rand Paul advocating for reform. Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, John Cornyn, and Rob Portman have all been instrumental in bringing sentencing reform to light. At CPAC this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Club for Growth's Grover Norquist, and former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik advocated for reducing prison terms and hiring ex-cons. And Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee backed two bills that would cut down mandatory sentences for drug offenses and establishing an early-release program for low-risk offenders.
The Republican about-face on criminal justice reform makes the issue one of the few that both parties can agree on. (On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder threw his support behind a plan to reduce minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.) Reform, Ohio's Portman argues, aligns with the ideals the GOP has had all along. Social conservatives see shorter sentences and early-release programs as compassionate; fiscal conservatives see putting people in jail for less time as money saved.