Guest post by Marc Hyden from CCATDP:
Conservatives are increasingly calling for criminal justice reform.
Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCATDP) returned to the
Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as an exhibitor in March 2014. We
enjoyed yet another tremendous reception from conservatives across the ideological
spectrum, but there was a difference this year. We weren’t viewed as a novelty but as
an established element in today’s conservative movement. It was also apparent that
broader criminal justice reform is becoming a major theme in the conservative world. An
increasing number of conservatives are concerned about today’s broken criminal justice
system, and that concern provides an opportunity for the conservative movement to
grow and thrive among new constituencies.
Right on Crime, Prison Fellowship Ministries, and Families Against Mandatory
Minimums joined CCATDP as an exhibitor at CPAC and hosted well-traveled booths.
This is unsurprising though, because many programs and components within the
criminal justice system do not align with conservative principles and because the
criminal justice system affects everyone from offenders, victims, and the taxpayers.
Perhaps the clearest example of a criminal justice program that is antithetical to
conservatism is today’s use of the death penalty, which conservatives are increasingly
The days of conservatives blindly supporting the death penalty are clearly over
because many of us understand the many reasons why it stands in contrast to our
core principles. Today’s system of capital punishment bears an undeniable risk to
innocent life. We know that the government makes mistakes, but in no way is this kind
of collateral damage acceptable when there are viable alternatives. It’s also extensively
understood that the death penalty is far more costly than other options including life-
without-parole. In an age when government budgets are often left unbalanced and debt
is accumulated, it is important to consider cutting nonessential and wasteful government
programs such as the death penalty.
Capital punishment is supposed to serve some sort of good to society, but the evidence
suggests that the death penalty doesn’t accomplish many of its purported goals.
Victims’ families are speaking out against capital punishment because of the endless
appeals and media coverage that forces them to relive those traumatic experiences.
Additionally, scientific studies are showing that the death penalty doesn’t even deter
murder. What capital punishment has become is a program that has an unacceptable
cost to life and state and federal budgets while accomplishing little.
Many of these same faults found in the death penalty program are representative
of broader failures in the criminal justice system including prison overpopulation,
recidivism, mandatory minimums for certain crimes, costly punishments for victimless
crimes, or the negative affects on victims. Most will agree that the criminal justice
system is not working efficiently or effectively, but it can be molded into a system that
works better and fits perfectly within fundamental conservative doctrines.
The moral, pragmatic, and philosophical conservative objections to the many
criminal justice problems can provide common ground with those who feel most
strongly affected by today’s criminal justice system, constituencies of color and the
impoverished. Conservatives can work together with these constituencies to achieve
common sense solutions for an issue that affects us all.