By Alan Bean
I heartily commend this well-crafted article on the unlikely evangelical-libertarian coalition that created the Right on Crime movement. David Dagan and Steven M. Teles appreciate that liberal organizations like the ACLU, the Open Societies Institute and the Public Welfare Foundation carried the torch for criminal justice reform during the dark ages (1980-2000) of tough-on-crime politic and ever-expanding prison populations. But liberal politicians have been too afraid of the soft-on-crime label to associate themselves with the reform movement; in fact, Democrats like Bill Clinton built careers on out-toughing the conservatives.
Real political change required a bi-partisan approach, and this meant that the impetus for reform had to come from the political right. Democrats will vote for change, but only if conservatives give them political cover. Conservatives, especially in deep-red states like Texas, don’t have to worry about looking soft.
But it goes deeper than that. The initial inspiration for the reform movement came from the evangelical world. Pat Nolan, an evangelical Catholic Republican who once carried a torch for the lock-’em-up movement, went to prison in 1993 on corruption charges. Nolan still claims he was innocent (and I am inclined to believe him) but, like many defendants, he accepted a plea deal rather than roll the dice with a jury. In the joint, Nolan encountered the brokenness that is the American criminal justice system. Because he was plugged into the evangelical world of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and the Republican political establishment, Nolan found ways to make things happen. (more…)