TIME Religion

4 Reasons Conservatives Are Embracing Prison Reform

Empty prison cell
Empty prison cell Darrin Klimek—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

There are few social issues over which all within the greater Christian Church can agree, or at least historically have been able to find common ground. From gay marriage to gun control, it seems that religious ideology have gone part and parcel along with the respective political parties that tend to represent our social views.

Criminal sentencing certainly has been one of those divisive social issues among Christians, with many progressives calling for more leniency on nonviolent crimes, and conservatives embracing a “zero tolerance” ethos. If raw numbers are any indication, the right has been “winning” this debate for the past several decades, with prison populations in the United States increasing tenfold in the past forty or so years.

Only recently have the number of incarcerated people within our borders begun to decline, and it’s in part due to a shift in the way those who have championed a hard-nosed approach to sentencing are reframing their thinking. In some respects, the reasons are logistical and economic; for others, the change of heart is informed particularly by their understanding of scripture and the mandates of the Gospel.

As I discuss in my upcoming book, “postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care?” The departure from more rigid institutional identities and values, whether because of inspired reflection or economic necessity, actually give us an opportunity to think in fresh ways about what Jesus calls us to do and be in the world. And not surprising, when we listen to that still small voice, we find some holy, common ground.

In the spirit of seeking such common ground, here are four ideas around which Christians – and non-Christians – from both the left and right are coming together.

Reform makes good financial sense.

Studies have shown that drug treatment and monitored work programs consistently cost less than incarceration, while also proving to be more effective at helping those with substance abuse issues remain sober and stay out of prison in the future. This “bang for your buck” sensibility resonates with many fiscal conservatives concerned with prudence when it comes to tax dollars.

Reform reduces government’s role in our lives.

One historical core value of the right is that of limited government. Since the time of Jefferson, stemming the reach of Uncle Sam has been a drumbeat around which most on the right can rally. In the last thirty years, the public dollars funneled into housing prisoners has exploded past $1 trillion annually, while the use of illicit drugs by adults in the United States continues to increase. Suffice it to say that this is one government program that has failed to live up to its promises, and an increasing number of conservatives and libertarians are joining the chorus for reform as a result.

Second Chances are Biblical.

Though some on the right have long embraced the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” attitude, others are finding a basis in scripture for inclining toward mercy, particularly when it comes to nonviolent crimes. Consider the stories of the Prodigal son, Jonah, David or even Adam and Eve who, though they were promised a death sentence for the transgressions they committed, actually benefitted from a reduced sentence.

Thinking on “paying our debt to society” is shifting.

Traditionally, it’s been suggested the way lawbreakers pay their debt is to sit in jail, and perhaps pick up some trash or hammer out a few license plates for pennies a day. But rather than developing skills as contributing citizens, most prisoners, after being imprisoned for a few years, simply become habituated to their new environment. In short: they become good convicts. Without proper job training and work placement programs, many prisoners turn to public services, from public shelters to SSI, food stamps, etc., to make ends meet. So we exchange one kind of public support for another, while adding nothing to the tax base. And since a federal law in the nineties was passed barring drug offenders from receiving food stamps or cash assistance, many former inmates turn back to criminal activities such as theft or prostitution, thus starting the cycle of recidivism in motion.

Warehousing nonviolent offenders is still big business in the United States, which means that people with significant influence are intent on keeping things more or less as they already are. And certainly not all on the political and religious right agree with the points above. But enough conservatives are breaking rank to begin to form coalitions with the center and left, so that real reform becomes an increasing possibility.

Meanwhile we’re tied with only one other country for having the most prisoners per capita of any nation in the world: nearly as many per capita as Iran and Russia combined. Is this the legacy we want to leave in the annals of history, and the system of democracy we are preserving for our children?

Here’s hoping the momentum of this new coalition continues to grow.

Christian Piatt is the author and creator of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS.

More from Patheos:

TIME 2016 Election

Rick Perry Getting Ready for a 2016 Presidential Campaign

Texas Governor Rick Perry Speaks At The Commonwealth Club
Rick Perry, governor of Texas, speaks at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on June 11, 2014. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Texas Governor has not yet committed to run, but he is boasting about getting his ducks in a row.

Two-and-a-half years after his first campaign for the White House flopped, Texas Governor Rick Perry sounds ready for another run at the presidency. “I’m glad I ran in 2012, as frustrating, as painful and as humbling as that experience was,” Perry told a group of national reporters at a Thursday lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Preparation is the single most important lesson that I learned out of that process,” he said. “Over the last 18 months, I’ve focused on being substantially better prepared. Please don’t take that as an indication that I’ve made a decision that I’m going to run or not—but if I do make that decision, I will be prepared.”

As his third term in the statehouse winds to a close, the swaggering Republican has refreshed his message, retooled his workout routine and retrained his sights toward the national stage. Perry is crisscrossing the country these days, dropping in on ice cream shops in Iowa, hot-dog fundraisers in South Carolina and donor confabs in California.

The overriding message? Perry is a national player, and he is not going to disappear when he steps down from his last term as governor. When he barreled into the race in the summer of 2011, Perry was touted as a major player in a moribund primary field. Handsome and folksy, with conservative credentials, a deep donor network and a record of poaching jobs from other states, Perry immediately vaulted to the top of pundits’ pecking order.

But the reality didn’t match the hype. Perry never connected with GOP voters. He ran a slipshod operation marred by unforced errors, including an indelible mental blank at a nationally televised debate. If he runs again, Perry would be betting that voters’ willingness to grant second chances will outweigh a sour first impression.

“I’m a competitor,” he told reporters Thursday. “I’m not going to ride off into the sunset.”

He has learned from the mishaps of the last campaign. Perry’s new message mixes conservative tribalism, such as skepticism toward climate change and a dose of Obama bashing, with a record of economic achievement designed to appeal to a national audience. Texas, he likes to say, has created 37% of the new private-sector private sector jobs in the U.S. over the past few years.

He has also changed his tune on immigration, a controversial issue that helped sink his last bid for the presidency. Audiences fixated on “oops,” but Perry’s advocacy of in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants (and his claim that those opposing the measure lacked a heart) had already sent his poll numbers plummeting among the GOP’s activist base.

This time around, he is speaking the Tea Party’s language on immigration. He resists immigration reform until the federal government secures the border, slammed the Immigration and Naturalization Agency and has directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to execute a “surge operation” to shore up the state’s southern border.

As the libertarian wing of the party grows, Perry has embraced efforts to be “smarter” about crime, embracing decriminalization of marijuana in Texas and touting the state’s success in adopting drug and prostitution courts that give judges sentencing flexibility with non-violent first-time offenders.

Perry is still stronger before conservative groups than he is with a national audience. “It’s time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” he declared in a rousing March speech that sent activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference to the feet. In other settings, he has a tendency to goof: such as when he likened homosexuality to alcoholism at a recent speech in San Francisco. “I stepped right in it,” he told reporters Thursday, suggesting that social issues were a distraction from his core message of economic growth.

If he runs again, Perry would recalibrate his strategy. His late entrance into the 2012 primary put him at a structural disadvantage, which was exacerbated by a slow recovery from back surgery. “I figured surely I can heal up in six weeks and go back in the game. Not necessarily the case,” Perry joked, alluding to the condition that sapped his strength. This time, he has ditched his running routine and his cowboy boots in an effort to prepare physically.

He is also taking steps to broaden his donor base. Americans for Economic Freedom, a 501(c)4 formed with $200,00 left over from the super PAC backing his first presidential bid, has allowed Perry to grow his influence outside Texas. An aide says the group, which does not report its finances, has the backing of a wide swath of the Republican donor class. It is bankrolling his trips to meet with donors and give speeches, as well as to run television ads designed to highlight the Lone Star State’s economic boom. And it is funding his visits to Democratic states to poach businesses with promises of lower taxes.

The group has also run web ads highlighting early-state governors’ commitment to those economic principles, including Iowa’s Terry Branstad and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley. “This is his core message,” said a Perry strategist who declined to be named discussing future plans.

“The governor has been very clear that he’s keeping the options open,” the strategist continued. “The main focus is the 2014 election. If we do a good job there, it’s going to be easier in 2016.”

“We both have some tread left on our tires,” Perry’s wife, Anita, told attendees at the Texas Republican Convention. Her husband’s speech there this month had all the markings of an announcement speech. “This America we love faces some hard decisions. And it requires better leaders,” Perry said. “Let’s get to work.”

TIME

How The United States Is Growing More Partisan In 10 Charts

494498243
Getty Images

Americans on either side of the political spectrum aren't just growing further apart politically, but culturally

A new survey from the Pew Research Center provides hard data to a phenomenon readily apparent across the county and on cable news: the United States has become more politically partisan than at any time in its modern history.

In a nationwide survey of 10,013 adults, the nonpartisan research outfit found troubling data about the state of the American political system, finding that Americans on either side of the political spectrum aren’t just growing further apart politically, but culturally as well. Increasingly, the poll’s results show, liberals have become more ideologically consistent with other liberals, and conservatives with other conservatives. Both sides are more disapproving of those they disagree with. Those at the extremes are the most vocal, as the dwindling center has grown frustrated by both wings. These are trends that underlie the historic unproductiveness of congressional lawmakers.

Democrats have shifted consistently and slowly leftward over the past 20 years, while Republicans have moved relatively quickly rightward over the past decade. More troubling may be the increasing insularity among both ideological wings, as they retreat to different geographic and social spheres.

Here are 10 charts illustrating the emerging divide:

Americans are becoming either more liberal or more conservative as the center shrinks:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

More Democrats and Republicans view the opposing party as a “threat to the nation’s well-being”

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

And each party has grown increasingly contemptuous of the other:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Over time, Democrats and Republicans have become more polarized in their views of the nation’s presidents

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Those most active in politics are the most ideological

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Many partisans prefer to live among and surround themselves with those who share their political views

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Some Americans would be unhappy if a family member married someone of the opposite political party

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

And many want friends who share their political views

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Political ideology even correlates with the types of communities in which Americans want to live

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

At either end of the spectrum, compromise means the other side embracing everything you believe in

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

This Pew report is the first in a series exploring the growing political polarization of the United States. The survey was conducted through a combination of online and telephone interviews from January 23-March 16, 2014 and has a sampling error of ± 1.1 percentage points.

TIME Conservative

Conservative Women Propose A Solution To Income Inequality: Marriage

Suffragettes in New York City, 1912
Suffragette marchers carrying portable speaker rostrums, New York City, 1912. Hand-colored halftone reproduction of a photograph North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images

Feminism hasn't just failed, says a Heritage Foundation panel of prominent female conservatives. It's actually made women more miserable

Marriage is increasingly a privilege—and an economic benefit—of the elite, a trend that must be reversed if lower and middle class women want to achieve income equality and success, according to a panel of conservative women at the Heritage Foundation on Monday.

“It’s not cave woman thinking: women know because of the nature of their bodies, because they carry and raise children, that they need support and protection during that time. The happiest women find that protection,” Mona Charen, a syndicated columnist, told an audience at Heritage’s Washington offices at an event marking the end of Women’s History Month. “Millions of women have taken feminist advice and it’s led to unparalleled misery.”

Over the past 40 years, women have become increasingly unhappy, the panelists said, citing data from the General Social Survey. A quarter of women are now taking anti-depressants compared to 15% of men, the survey found, and most women with a high school degree or less will have a first child before they’re married. Married women are also richer, according to Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor at conservative web magazine The Federalist. Women who never married or are divorced are 73% less well off than their married counterparts, on average, she said. “Everybody go out right now, if you’re not married, go get married and that will solve all these problems,” she said. “If you care about income inequality at all, you basically have to care about marriage.”

The panel comes as Democrats base their 2014 campaign on issues like income inequality, flexible jobs and minimum wage—which disproportionately affects women, who make up two-thirds of those on minimum wage. Polls show that if Democrats can turn out single women in the same numbers as in 2012, where they voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney by 36 points, they could win back the House and hold the Senate. But single women are notorious drop-off voters in non-presidential elections, hence the push.

Republicans have begun their own push to appeal to women and the panel was asked how to do so without “revoltingly pandering” to women. “The left has done a marvelous job in preventing the government as a kind boyfriend,” Hemingway responded. “Marriage has enabled elites to have a lot of money and stability. We should show concern in extending marriage to everybody so that everybody can benefit.”

Added Charen: “It’s true that a social safety net can prevent you from falling to the ground but it cannot lift you up, it cannot give you a good life.”

The panel noted that too much special emphasis was being placed on women and girls when in reality men and boys were the ones in need. “Women and girls are not failing to thrive. We have a problem with men and boys. Men’s participation rates in the workforce are declining alarmingly, as are their wages,” Charen said. “And they’re seeing declining percentages of supervisory and administrative posts.”

Noting that only 20% of women considered themselves feminists in a Huffington Post poll last year, Karin Agness, president of the Network of Enlightened Women, said the movement had clearly failed because it was too combative. “The Left is quick to offer proposals and policy solutions that get in between employer/employee relationships,” she said. “We should think more about what women really want not just trying to achieve parity in numbers.” Democrats, she said, shouldn’t be pushing women to work full time when the General Social Survey says only 32% of women with children want fulltime employment, versus more than 70% of men in the same position.

This is also why fewer women, particularly Republican women, get elected to office, said Charen. “Women candidates don’t have any more difficult a time as men in getting votes, in fact it’s sometimes easier for them to attract votes,” Charen said. “They don’t seek office as much as men and that speaks to how they want to spend their lives—with their children and families.” Only 4.6% of House Republicans are women versus more than 30% of House Democrats, and there are only four GOP female senators compared to 16 Democratic female senators.

TIME 2016 Election

A Humbled Christie Strikes Low-Key Tone at Conservative Confab

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Md.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014, in National Harbor, Md. Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivered an uncharacteristically low-key speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this afternoon, aiming to reconnect with the Republican base amid a traffic scandal that has dented his 2016 ambitions

Humbled by a scandal that has hampered his rise on the national stage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sought to reconnect with the Republican base on Thursday, delivering an uncharacteristically low-key speech to GOP activists that sounded traditional conservative themes.

“You know I’m shy and retiring, and I don’t like to speak my mind,” Christie joked during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual confab held at a convention center on the banks of the Potomac River outside Washington.

But the reference to his swaggering image seemed to invoke a figure who wasn’t there. Christie’s remarks were neither brusque nor stirring. He courted the crowd by ticking off familiar tropes, reminding skeptical conservatives of his anti-abortion bona fides and his record of taking on public-sector unions and instituting budget reforms. The Garden State governor assailed the media for bias, cast Democrats as “the party of intolerance,” and urged the GOP to define itself as the party of ideas.

“Our ideas are better than their ideas,” Christie told the packed ballroom. “We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.”

Christie framed himself as a conservative who has secured a governing majority in a reliably blue state. If the GOP can win in New Jersey, he said, it can borrow the blueprint to expand the political map in coming elections.

“Governors are about getting things done,” Christie said, lumping himself in with a passel of conservative executives leading blue and purple states, while distancing himself from Washington lawmakers. “Republican governors in this country have stood up and done things — not just talked about them.”

Christie’s remarks, which lasted about 15 minutes, were a far cry from the all-about-me message he delivered at the 2012 Republican National Convention. His speech Thursday earned a polite reception from the crowd and was punctuated by several rounds of applause. He spoke off the cuff, using notes instead of a teleprompter.

But his very attendance is a sign that the frost between Christie and his party’s base has thawed. Christie addressed the group in 2012 but did not receive an invitation to CPAC last year. The snub came just months after his public embrace of President Barack Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many Republicans believed Christie’s effusive praise of the President in the final days of Obama’s re-election campaign helped lift the President over GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Christie spent much of 2013 focused on appealing to his state’s Democrats in order to run up the score of his re-election in preparation for a 2016 presidential campaign.

The reception may have reflected the media onslaught buffeting Christie, who has been under fire in recent months amid revelations that aides initiated a traffic jam in an apparent act of political retribution. The harsh spotlight from a media conservatives see as biased has earned him new affection from the right.

Working a crowd that has not always been friendly to his brand of Northeast conservatism, Christie sought to mend fences. He defended the political activity of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose spending on 2014 races has become a rallying cry for vulnerable Senate Democrats. He urged conservatives to stress an economic platform that can lift Americans out of poverty. And he lambasted Obama for standing on the sidelines when Washington required leadership.

“Mr. President,” he said, “what the hell are we paying you for?”

TIME France

France’s Opponents of Gay Marriage Protest ‘Family-Phobic’ Government

"La Manif Pour Tous" (Protest For Everyone) Movement Demonstrate In Paris
Anti-gay demonstrators take part in the protest march 'La Manif Pour Tous' (Protest For Everyone) on February 2, 2014 in Paris, France. Kristy Sparow / Getty Images

Apparently gay couples and their children don't count as families

French opponents of gay marriage marched in the tens of thousands on Sunday to protest a government that they saw as increasingly “family-phobic.”

Reuters reports that more than 100,000 protesters rallied in Paris and Lyon against the left-leaning administration of President Francois Hollande. Demonstrators vented their frustration over a range of policies, including the legalization of gay marriage, school lessons on gender equality and a draft law that they feared would allow gay couples to have children through medically assisted reproduction. Government ministers deny the latter, but Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, one of the protest organizers, told journalists, “We are not naive.”

[Reuters]

TIME Voting

Obamacare Voter Registration Criticized By Left and Right

Floridians Register To Vote For Presidential Election As Deadline Nears
A Florida Voter Registration Application sits at the Miami-Dade Elections Department Joe Raedle/ Getty Images

Civil rights organizations say the healthcare website doesn't fully comply with federal law and may miss registering millions of eligible voters. Some on the right think it shouldn't register voters at all.

Two liberal civil rights groups say the Affordable Care Act may not be in compliance with a federal voting law and are urging the Obama Administration to change how enrollees are prompted to register with the newly created federal insurance exchanges.

“There is a day and night difference between what is required by law and what the administration has done,” said Michael Slater, the executive director of Project Vote, one of two organizations that sent a letter of protest to the White House on Wednesday. “When you give people a meaningful offer to register to vote they will take it,” Slater said.

Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), known as the Motor Voter law, states are required to provide eligible citizens an opportunity to register to vote when they apply for and renew their driver’s licenses, change their address, or apply for public assistance. Because the ACA’s health insurance exchanges provide public assistance in the form of Medicaid and federal subsidies, the NVRA applies, the voting rights advocates say.

The Obama Administration agrees that the Affordable Care Act needs to comply with the Motor Voter law and has taken some steps to give enrollees the opportunity to register through the federal healthcare marketplace. Online and paper applications for insurance inform applicants in writing that if they want to register to vote, they “can complete a voter registration form at usa.gov,” according to an official at the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid. After enrolling via healthcare.gov, a link at the bottom of the final page directs interested applicants to a site where they can print off a mail-in voter registration form.

In the letter sent to the White House, Project Vote and the liberal advocacy group Demos argue that isn’t enough. The federal exchange doesn’t use the language outlined in the law nor does it make the proper disclaimers required by the law, the advocates say. Under the NVRA, those registering applicants for federal aid are required to ask, “if you are not registered to vote where you live now, would you like to register to vote here today?” The law also requires that the applicant be told that registering to vote will not affect any public assistance they are applying for. The advocates complain that printing off applications is an inconvenience.

“We’re aware of the rocky start the Affordable Care Act had, and we understand the administration has been dealing with a lot of different issues around the rollout,” said Brenda Wright, the vice president of legal strategies as Demos. “But we have concluded that millions are missing the opportunity to register to vote through the exchanges.”

About 50 million eligible citizens are not registered to vote, according to research by Pew. Voting rights advocates say many of the unregistered are also likely to be uninsured: among the main targets of the Affordable Care Act are young people and low-income people, who are among the groups that are the least likely to vote. Slater of Project Vote estimates that about 10% of the people who go through exchanges would choose to register to vote if they had a meaningful offer. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, 3 million people have enrolled in private insurance and 6.3 million have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Child Health Insurance program through the federal and state based marketplaces. Some states have provided more explicit voter registration links within their state health exchanges, but the majority of Americans applying for insurance will do so through the federal marketplace.

Not everyone agrees that Obamacare should become a more aggressive means for registering voters. In March, Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana questioned the Obamacare website’s voting information in a letter Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “While the health care law requires that government agencies collect vast information about Americans’ personal lives, it does not give your Department an interest in whether individual Americans choose to vote,” Boustany wrote. In June, Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh mentioned the issue and said Obamacare was about “building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority.”

At least one independent, bipartisan group appears to agree with the liberal advocates that enough is not being done to register voters. In a report published by the White House Commission on Election Administration on Wednesday, The National Voter Registration Act was called the statute that is “most often ignored.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,247 other followers