Republicans, Democrats and Independents are seeking common ground nationally and in state legislatures in an effort to reduce overcrowded prisons, address budget woes from prison costs and the high recidivism rate – the rate at which offenders return to prison in three years after being released.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a Tea Party Republican, has been working with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to pass prison reform legislation.
"Justice is neither left nor right, it's neither Republican nor Democratic," Lee stated. "It's one of the things that explains why you have Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals and everyone who has seriously looked at this issue expressing interest and coming together and calling for reform."
The National Review's Betsy Woodruff reported that Lee and Durbin have been joined by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Woodruff added that while collaboration on this issue might seem surprising, similar efforts at the state level have been in progress for some time.
Texas, which enacted a series of bipartisan reforms in 2007, has become a model that other states are considering.
"In 2004, a little over 30 percent of the state's released inmates ended up incarcerated again within three years. By 2007, that number had dropped to 24 percent. Instead of adding thousands and thousands of beds, the state closed three adult and six juvenile prisons," Woodruff noted.
Texas' reforms are significant, she said, as it has lent legitimacy to the possibility of reforms elsewhere.
Texas' Criminal Justice Data Analysis Team of the Legislative Budget Board reported in January 2013 that the rearrested rate in three years for adults released from prison dropped in 2004 from 48.7 percent to 47.2 percent in 2008.
The re-incarceration rate for intermediate sanction facilities fell in 2005 from 27.2 percent to 22.6 percent in 2009.
In Alabama, efforts are underway to create a prison reform task force to address overcrowding and related problems.
State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who sponsored the legislation, recently stated: "They did this in Texas, they did this in Kentucky, they've done this in Arkansas. All conservative, Republican states, but they did it in those states, and those states adopted those recommendations."
Mississippi and Nebraska have recently initiated processes aimed at reaching bipartisan prison reform legislation.
Kentucky passed bipartisan reform legislation in 2011 and, by July 2012 the "prison population has declined by more than eight percent, putting us well below what had been projected before reform," wrote John Tilley in an opinion editorial.
The Urban Institute and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) highlighted reform efforts in 17 states.
"While it is too early to assess the full impact of justice reinvestment reforms," said BJA director Denise E. O'Donnell, "states have enacted policies that hold great promise to reduce prison populations or avert future growth, generating savings while enhancing public safety."
The Bureau of Justice Statistics' annual report revealed that overcrowded prisons persist despite an overall reduction in the prison population.
Washington gridlock and bitter partisan bickering leave many with the sense that bipartisanship is dead, which may explain why bipartisan prison reform draws headlines such as the one that appeared in The Economist: "Prison Reform: An unlikely alliance of left and right."
Editor's Note: "Through the Door," EthicsDaily.com's newly released documentary, features positive efforts of faith-based groups to reduce recidivism, including a story in Texas.