For the second time in less than a month, a major conservative leader has spoken out for prison reform.
First there was Reverend Pat Robertson, who made national news when he spoke out against the criminalization of marijuana. On his December 16 show, while doing a segment on faith-based programs in prison and a new campaign named Right on Crime, a push by conservatives advocating for prison reform, he spoke emotionally about ruining young people lives by sending them to jail for only "few ounces of pot."
"We're locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana, and the next thing you know they've got 10 years," said Robertson. "I'm not exactly for the use of drugs -- don't get me wrong - but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot and that kind of thing, I mean, it's just, it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people."
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, was quoted in the Washington Post on the significance of Rev. Roberson's words. "His voice is respected by hundreds of thousands or millions of people who might not otherwise think about this issue seriously. His comments were a very important step forward. The only way that this country's going to end up with more sensible and sane drug laws is if people call for it from across the political spectrum."
Today, another prominent voice from the right spoke out against over-incarceration. Former GOP Speaker of the House and possible 2012 Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich co-authored with Vice President of Prison Fellowship Pat Nolan an op-ed in the Washington Post in which they called for prison reform as a smart way for states to save money and lives. They point out that instead of spending $50,000 to lock someone up in a cage, states need smart, common sense approaches that will save money and keep the public safe. They urge legislators to act with courage and creativity, and hope conservative leaders will join them in reforming the criminal justice system.
The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars waging a 40-year "war on drugs" that has been responsible for the imprisonment of millions of our fellow Americans. Despite the enormous waste of money and lives, drugs are as easily available as ever.
At a time when Democrats and Republicans are having a difficult time agreeing on anything, let's hope that we can come together to help end America's longest, unwinnable war.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)