The editorial writers go on to make a strong, conservative case for reducing expenses on incarceration, particularly incarceration for drug-possession offenses.
Seldom do Republicans clamor for more state spending, and more government bureaucracy, in opposition to Democrats. That’s exactly what’s happening in Colorado, however, as leading Republicans blast Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter for his proposal to save money by shrinking the prison population.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry called the governor’s plan “Ill-conceived and reckless.” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the plan “will seriously compromise public safety.”
Colorado, like the rest of the country, has been on a foolish incarceration spending spree for years. Our state’s bloated prison bureaucracy has contributed to this country’s dubious distinction as having the largest prison population in the world — even larger than the prison population of China, which has more than four times the general population of the United States.
These arguments pretty much exclusively draw on conservative ideology for reform proposals, right down to the writers' view of prison inmates as "freedom robbing scum." And yet, their proposals for de-incarceration jibe closely with suggestions from sources more closely associated with the left. IMO that's because any rational analysis of the economics of incarceration unavoidably leads to many of the same conclusions, no matter what point of view you subscribe to.
Convicted felons are freedom-robbing scum who deserve no sympathy. Government should punish them and try to prevent them from causing more harm. The governor, the commission, and the police chiefs’ association aren’t trying to move our state in a soft-on-crime direction. Instead, they are trying to move Colorado in a direction that is realistic and fiscally responsible, given the condition of the economy. Prisoners are pure liability. They cost Coloradans 10 percent of their tax money and produce nothing of significant value. The less we spend on prisoners, the more we can spend on roads and bridges and higher education — assets that help facilitate the creation of wealth and therefore good jobs.
In the past 15 years, tough-on-crime politics have led to runaway spending on corrections. Just 15 years ago, Colorado prisons housed roughly 9,600 convicts. Today, the population is closing in on 25,000. While the prison population has more than doubled, the state’s general population has grown by only a third. As we spend 10 percent of the state’s budget on prisons, we spent only 4 percent in 1995. All this in an era that has been marked by dropping crime rates, a phenomenon related directly to an increase in the average age of the population.
Going forward, state leaders should consider all possibilities for minimizing Colorado’s prison population without endangering the public. Drug enforcement should be a low priority, in order to keep nonviolent dealers, smugglers and other habitual drug offenders from becoming expensive wards of the state. The Legislature should legalize marijuana. State leaders should familiarize themselves with all new and emerging GPS tracking gadgetry, which gives law enforcement officials the opportunity to know the exact location of convicts at all times. The state should reserve prison space for the long-term incarceration of the most violent offenders. ...
Never should our state become the least bit soft on crime. Never should state politicians busy themselves with compassion for criminals. But the days of spare-no-expense, lock-’em –up-and-throw-away-the-key politics are over. It’s an indulgence we can no longer afford.
Texas' example has shown there's a lot of room for finding common ground between conservatives and liberals on criminal justice reform. But political actors must be able to set aside partisanship to focus on public safety and the wisest stewardship of taxpayers' money.