The Deseret News says U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah represents a new breed of state and federal Republican leaders who are turning away from “tough on crime” in favor of “smart on crime.” Conservative criminal justice reformers outside of government, ranging from anti-tax crusaders calling for smaller government to religious ministries that preach redemption, have also seized the issue. Many Democrats have long been willing to embrace reform over punishment. Of the 36 cosponsors on a major bipartisan Senate bill last session, 20 were Democrats, and many GOP senators, including Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, continue to oppose reforms.
But Republicans like Lee are moving their party in a direction typically seen as the domain of Democrats, creating the rare opportunity for bipartisan breakthroughs. A Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in 1995 might be stunned to see today’s leading GOP officials — whose predecessors seemingly never met an extreme sentence they didn’t like — speaking out against interminable prison terms.