Tripping over any of at least 4,000 federal laws may land the lawbreaker in prison. Add state and local laws to the equation and the odds for incarceration go up exponentially.
America’s prisons are filled to bursting. The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than does any other nation. One prominent conservative calls that poor fiscal and social policy, and says the time has come for change.
Grover Norquist, best known as the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, spoke at the Columbus School of Law on March 17 at the invitation of the Republican Student Law Students, the Federalist Society and the Law and Public Policy Association.
His message was simple. “We want to put people in prison who are dangerous, not who we’re mad at or who we disapprove of,” said Norquist.
The 57 year-old conservative firebrand and Harvard graduate built a national reputation beginning in the 1980s as an eloquent and effective opponent of all tax increases as a matter of principle. Today, he has turned his powers of analysis and persuasion to prison reform, and specifically, doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing.
Norquist acknowledged that a conservative-supported move to reduce the prison population may surprise some people who occupy other points on the political spectrum, but he argued that it makes sense in light of achieving the goals of lowering costs, lowering crime, and issuing punishment appropriate to the offense.
“Are we doing any of that with our present system of incarceration?” he asked.
Texas is among seven states that is carefully re-examining its sentencing laws, Norquist informed his audience. Everything is on the table, including the harsh three-strikes-you’re-out approach that was once in favor with the general public.
“It’s an issue being led by conservatives at the state level,” said Norquist. “Getting people to focus on it is a clear step in the right direction.”
An animated and engaging speaker, Norquist left plenty of time for questions from the mostly student audience. In response to one, he affirmed his support for prisons run by private contractors. Norquist maintained that the higher level of accountability results in better run prisons.