A conservative anti-poverty agenda: Criminal justice reform
America's criminal justice system entrenches far too many people in poverty. And the fact that this system so disproportionately incarcerates black men is the disgusting icing on an awful cake.
It's not just prison — it's the whole criminal justice system. Parole that doesn't work. Inept policing by fat, over-armed, trigger-happy cops. Laws that make it impossible for ex-cons to find jobs, driving them back into crime. A war on drugs that locks up countless people for nonviolent offenses. Insane mandatory minimum laws. And on and on.
Thankfully, conservatives have started to cotton up to the problem. Indeed, the conservative war on prisons may be the single most under-reported story in America today.
So, how do we reform America's criminal justice system in a manner that's in line with conservative values and will help lift millions of Americans out of poverty? It will require a multi-pronged effort.
First, we need to rethink policing. We need actual community policing, which combines a ("right-wing") focus on zero tolerance for petty crime, and a ("left-wing") focus on community relations, all enabled by high-tech accountability and serious training of police officers. Of course, making policing work better will require picking big fights with police unions.
Second, we need to seriously rethink the drug war. As the widely admired addiction expert Mark Kleiman has argued, drugs should not be legalized wholesale, but they should be regulated and made available so as to kneecap the drug cartels and the drug economy. And we need massive reforms to draconian mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenders.
Third, we need to rethink prison altogether. I actually believe that we should just get rid of prison for almost all offenses, and replace it with alternative sentences, including the lash. But I realize this is a minority position! Still, at the very least, we must ensure sure that American prisons are not inhumane rape mills. If we are to have prisons, they must legitimately be structured to rehabilitate people. No longer can America's prisons simply warehouse millions of people for an arbitrary length of time.
Fourth, parole. We should focus on parole that actually works, perhaps using the model of the stellar and innovative Project: HOPE in Hawaii, which has found tremendous success in reducing recidivism by immediately cracking down on every infraction with tough punishments, often jail time. (Though we should really try a number of different approaches, test them to see how they work, and iterate from there.)
That is a very ambitious agenda, I know. But the result would be a vastly more just criminal justice system, and one that does not entrench millions of Americans in hopeless poverty.
And just imagine: If you add a deregulated and lightly taxed economy that creates jobs for nearly everyone (including lesser-skilled folks), and the internetization of education (so people can get new skills), and wage subsidies to give a leg-up to less-skilled workers — well, it would go a long, long way to solving America's poverty problem.