A group of conservative leaders have launched a campaign to reform America's criminal justice system, saying the current penal methods are ineffective and costing taxpayers too much money.
This coalition, including such prominent conservatives as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese and former Drug Czar Asa Hutchinson have abandoned the philosophy of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
Others leading the coalition include Pat Nolan, vice president for Prison Fellowship, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Brooke Rollins, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation who appeared at a Washington news conference to promote the new campaign.
These conservative leaders say billions of dollars can be saved by getting smart on crime rather than just tough on crime.
"Save money and keep the public safer," Nolan explained.
Nolan said the country's prison system now costs $68 billion a year, up 400 percent in the last 25 years, while America's population has only grown 5 percent.
"We could probably save $4 to $5 billion and we would be safer," he added.
"There are some states now that are spending as much money building prisons as they are educating their children," Keene said.
The state of Texas has been leading the way in the reforms these conservatives have embraced.
"We have saved billions of dollars. The crime rate has gone down nine percent and we've improved public safety," Rollins explained.
The leaders have launched a campaign known as "Right on Crime" to educate state leaders about proven reforms. Solutions range from using more community programs like drug rehab and taking laws off the books for crimes that many now consider are not criminal.
The group of three said prison reform should certainly involve the proven religious-based programs like Prison Fellowship.
"The government doesn't have enough money to put into trying to transform inmates," Nolan said. "That's where the church comes in. We can come alongside the inmates with mentor programs, with discipleship programs. Teach them how to live as a Christian, and try to bring their families back together to heal those wounds."
The prison system, left to its own devices, sees 50 percent of its freed prisoners back behind bars within three years -- a 50 percent failure rate.
The trio said that's unconscionable.
Secularists may not like it, but Christ-centered programs in prisons have already saved many millions of dollars in numerous states.
"It's the answer to this big hole in the budgets and it's also the answer on lowering crime, because these people who are focused on Christ then become good citizens, good husbands, good employees," Nolan said.