Before 1996, the country’s welfare system was set up to give states more money when their welfare rolls grew. The program thus gave welfare bureaucrats an incentive to keep folks dependent on welfare. Fixing those bad incentives was one of the major purposes of the 1996 welfare reform law.
Now a group of conservatives has launched a project to bring that same focus to state criminal justice systems. It’s called “Right on Crime,” and it was founded by Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Mike Klein of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation recently interviewed Levin about the project:
“The thing that keeps standing out to me is the broader question of accountability and results,” Levin said. “It seems to me that with criminal justice systems, at every stage funding expands based on the number of inmates and people on probation. We know how many people are in the system, but what is the recidivism rate?”
Levin pointed to the obvious but disturbing statistic that criminal justice system state and local spending grows when inmate rehabilitation fails. More prisoners result in more spending. More people return to prison when they have not been rehabilitated, which requires more spending.
“By in large, front line people are trying to do their best but I think we have a system in place that doesn’t really reward results,” Levin said. “If you look at education, conservatives pushed merit pay and accountability but I see criminal justice being way behind education. I really think there is a great need for conservatives to bring the same scrutiny to criminal justice.”
Numerous conservative leaders, including Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Edwin Meese III, and William Bennett, have endorsed the project. Visit the Right on Crime Web site to read the project’s statement of principles.