There was a time when conservatives like U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a former judge and state attorney general, used to tout their tough-on-crime credentials, much like in the cowboy-themed 2008 campaign video, “Big Bad John.” Now, says the Houston Chronicle, Cornyn and many other Republicans across the U.S. are singing a different tune on crime and punishment – this time invoking costs, redemption and second chances. “We tried the lock ’em all up and keep them locked up philosophy, but sooner or later many of these folks are going to be released from prison,” Cornyn tells the Chronicle. “Traditional criminal justice policy called for rehabilitation to be one of the elements of our criminal justice system, but we kind of forgot about that.”
Some traditional conservatives have come to the view that treatment and rehabilitation programs – long the province of liberal prison reformers – cost a fraction of mandating long, hard time, and have shown better results with low-level offenders, particularly drug offenders, who make up about half of all federal inmates. The upshot is a pair of broadly-backed criminal justice reform bills in the Senate – one with Cornyn’s name on it – now being hailed as a major transformation in a failed criminal justice system. Even in an election year of a famously gridlocked Congress, Cornyn and others give the legislation a better than even chance of passing this year.