Bipartisanship on Criminal Justice Reform Continues to Grow

Common ground needed to overcome current shortcomings of justice system

In a recent op-ed in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Doug DeVos, former chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, outlines why “criminal justice reform is the right thing to do, for all of us.” Citing Michigan’s high corrections spending and relatively high crime rate, DeVos calls for change.

Specifically, he wants the Legislature to repudiate the outdated “tough on crime” mentality, which, he writes, has had the unintended effect of being “tough on taxpayers.” He adds that Michiganders have a responsibility to end policies that needlessly devastate individuals, families and communities and make it difficult for former offenders to assimilate back into society.

This is the new-school conservative point of view on criminal justice and a significant shift toward a bipartisan agreement on these issues. DeVos is calling for measures that traditionally have been favored by liberal groups and politicians, such as the release of medically frail prisoners and the automatic parole of prisoners who have served their minimum sentence.

Despite agreeing on these policy solutions, new-school conservatives and liberals still approach criminal justice reforms from different perspectives. While the Left tends to focus on “social justice” and ending “mass incarceration,” thought leaders on the Right are generally more concerned about efficient corrections spending and the negative consequences for public safety stemming from some “tough on crime” policies. Nevertheless, reformers across the spectrum have found some common ground.

For example, the concept of “smart on crime” is something everyone can agree on: It’s needlessly harsh and financially inefficient to over-incarcerate offenders. Both sides should support getting former offenders into productive employment, because work is good for both public safety and social justice. And there’s wide support for addressing factors like mental illness, recidivism and poverty, which are the root causes explaining why many people are imprisoned. Prison should be reserved for the real threats to safety and society, not a place where we put people we don’t know how to help.

With another state election cycle fast approaching, it’s reassuring to remember that we have at least one issue where there’s bipartisan support for commonsense reforms.