Sunday, September 25, 2016

Conservatives tackle justice reform in Tennessee and politics makes strange bedfellows.

by Stacey Barchenger, The Tennessean - Is criminal justice reform a conservative issue? A group of thinkers, politicians, advocates and political donors gathered in Nashville Tuesday to answer that question with a resounding yes.

The conversation over wine and hors d'oeuvres at Nashville's Union Station Hotel turned to topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver's licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state's prison population.

"It's important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system," said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. "We want conservatives to understand what we've been doing for the past 30 years isn't working." (link)

Unlikely coalition tackles criminal justice reform in Tennessee

by Anita Wadhwani and Joel Ebert, The Tennessean, Sept. 20, 2016 -An unlikely coalition of Nashville businesses, social service and advocacy groups is launching an effort to reform criminal justice in Tennessee, where the incarceration rate is 11 percent higher than the national average.

Through the newly formed Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice, backers plan to pursue legislation initially focused on juvenile justice, lowering the rates of people returning to prison and changing sentencing guidelines for those convicted of crimes.

The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which advocates for smaller government.

"It's not about being tough or soft on crime, it's about being effective on crime," said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

My comment: I do not hold my opinions because I am a conservative but I am a conservative because I hold my opinions. I don't reject a policy position because it may be considered a liberal position.

I have for a long time had what some may call a "liberal" position on several issues.  Probably the most long-held and obvious of these is that I favor marijuana reform. I think it is nuts that we criminalize people for smoking a relatively harmless substance.  I have been an advocate of marijuana reform since the mid-seventies when I joined NORMAL.

Overtime, I have also come to think that there must be something terribly wrong with the American system of criminal justice which has one of the highest imprisonment rates of any free country in the world. I have come to think that the "tough  on crime" policies of Republicans may have been a mistake.

Also, liberals have been in the forefront of fighting for open government, open meetings, open records and transparency. I support those efforts that let citizen know what their government is up to. If this is a "liberal" position, then so be it.

My other "liberal" positions are not so much specific policy position as just a mind set that embraces defiance of convention and authority. I tend to think a little disrespect for the law is a healthy thing. I also tend to think that victimless crimes should not be crimes. I also don't like laws which ban strip clubs and I would not want to live in a community that banned liquor by the drink or wine in grocery stores. There is a certain segment of the religious right that makes me uncomfortable. I basically think people should be free to be deviants if they want to. I also think that on occasion the American Civil Liberties Union actually does defend our liberties.  I wish they were more balanced in whose liberties they defend but I often see their point of view.

A couple of years ago I attended a convention of CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee). There is nothing comparable on the left. Thousands of people from all across the country attend a three day convention to be inspired, motivated, challenged, and educated. Part of the CPAC experience is the exhibition hall where a couple hundred or more of exhibitors promote there product, publication, cause, or point of view. In 2013 I was pleasantly surprised to see probably a dozen organization promoting either drug policy reform or criminal justice reform.

I am a supporter of The Beacon Center and am pleased to see this organization has joining the cause of criminal justice reform.  This is one of those issues that regardless of ones political label, one should get behind simply because it is the right thing to do.

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