When it comes to the public safety benefits of incarceration for some offenders, “it is clear that we are well past the point of diminishing returns,” former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Deborah Daniels, both prominent Republicans, write in the Washington Post. Given that recidivism levels have remained disappointingly high as incarceration rates have increased, “we would be foolish to ignore the need for a course correction,” they say. It’s the latest turnaround by conservatives on major sentencing issues.
Cuccinelli and Daniels contend that in previous decades, with higher crime rates, the idea of long prison terms made sense. “As conservatives with backgrounds in law enforcement, we embraced the orthodoxy that more incarceration invariably meant less crime, no matter the offense or the danger posed by its perpetrator,” they write. As crime rates have declined, “a growing body of research combined with the compelling results of reforms in many states prove it is time to adjust our approach,” they say. The two endorse the idea of reserving the use of prison for violent and career criminals while strengthening cost-effective alternatives for lower-level, nonviolent offenders. “The latter lawbreakers must be held accountable for their crimes, but they pose less risk and hold greater potential for redemption,” say Cuccinelli and Daniels..