Newt Gingrich Among Conservatives Backing NAACP Prison Reform Report


Former Georgia congressman turned Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is among a group of big name conservatives supporting a new NAACP study pushing for a major criminal justice system overhaul.

The former U.S. House speaker has joined other fellow conservatives in promoting the civil rights organization’s latest report, highlighting racial disparities in incarceration rates and the imbalance between prison funding and education spending around the country. Dubbed “Misplaced Priorities,” it asserts there is an inverse relationship between exploding prison budgets and massive cutbacks in public higher education funding.

“Over the past 20 years, nationwide spending on higher education increased by 21 percent, while corrections funding increased by 127 percent,” said Robert Rooks, director of NAACP Criminal Justice Programs. “Even during the recession, education budgets dropped while a majority of states have continued to increase the amount they spent on prisons. During that same time we’ve seen higher education costs in states being shifted to working families.”

Rooks said it is time for a major paradigm shift in regards to the nation’s criminal justice practices. “The same political and social force that we used to increase the prison population is the same that we need now to better our educational system,” he said. Gingrich and fellow conservative colleagues, including former President George Bush’s Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist and Mike Jiminez of the executive committee of Corrections USA, a national organization that represents corrections officers, have rallied behind the report. The NAACP contends that costly incarceration rates have not significantly improved public safety and to some degree have compromised it. Among proponents the overarching sentiment is that it is time to explore more cost-effective alternatives, particularly for non-violent offenders.

“If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane alternatives — especially alternatives that do not involve spending billions more on more prisons — it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners,” Gingrich wrote in a statement read during a Washington D.C. news conference led by NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous earlier this month. “Conservatives, such as myself, should not consider criminal justice reform off-limits and I am pleased that our movement has begun to tackle these issues head-on.”

Pat Nolan, vice president of the Landsdowne, Virginia-based conservative non-profit, Prison Fellowship, agreed with his colleague. They are both part of the burgeoning Right On Crime movement that also includes former U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Ed Meese. Nolan, a former Republican leader of the California Assembly, had previously spent years in a federal prison for racketeering.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re going to spend $68 billion on corrections costs in this country this year; that’s 300 percent more than we did 25 years ago and the public isn’t any safer,’’ said Prison Fellowship Spokeswoman Kimberly N. Alleyne. “We’re focused on it from the spending standpoint. It’s the second fastest growing expense; second only to Medicare. It’s time to stop talking about being tougher on crime and instead get smarter on crime.” continue >>

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Chandra Thomas-Whitfield

Thomas is a 2011 Soros Justice Media Fellow and a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow. She is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Atlanta Magazine and Fox 5 News in Atlanta.

5 thoughts on “Newt Gingrich Among Conservatives Backing NAACP Prison Reform Report”

  1. The words of the 13th Amendment equate private slavery with the state slavery of modern incarceration. Involuntary servitude after being duly convicted of crime is allowed; and legally the state owns 100% of the labor of prisoners. Every warden would like to keep his or her prisoners busy with work, but the federal & state governments quash prison industries with restrictive legislation. We need to put most of our 2.3 million prisoners to work in secure private businesses, manufacturing goods now made exclusively overseas, and without wage & hour laws keeping wages too high. Governments have a double monopoly over prison industries & labor — this needs to end for the benefit of prisoners, victims, families, the state and the entire American economy. We cannot afford this many prisoners!

    1. Thank you for the recommendation. After working 27 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons I find no comparison between current imprisonment and slavery. Slavery was a despicable institution that took innocent people from their homeland for the selfish benefit of a few white landowners. Our modern correctional system is filled with people who have harmed others in some form and been tried and sentenced.

      In today’s prisons, especially federal, a person can enter as a functional illiterate and be released with a college degree. They can participate in drug treatment, counseling, and vocational training. This is of course if they choose to do so. They can also choose to warehouse themselves throughout their incarceration. These are the people who come out, commit another crime, then after re-arrest proclaim, “They didn’t rehabilitate me”. One of my many jobs within the system was in community corrections. We transitioned (I prefer that term to reentry) virtually all inmates through community treatment centers where they could gain employment and prepare for life as free citizens.

      The system MUST change. But not by focusing on prison reform. We’ve had prison reform for hundreds of years. The American penitentiary was itself a reformation of the old system of incarceration. The system needs to be TRANSFORMED. The problem with reform efforts is that we keep jumping to the answers without asking the right questions. I’m limited by space in listing those questions but I hope we can some day make this transformation.

  2. The proposition of improving our criminal justice system primarily through prison reform is wrong for a number of reasons. Most important of these is the fact that the premise for reform is faulty. Our criminal justice system DOES NOT rely too much on incarceration.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) at the end of 2009 our country had 7,225,800 individuals under correctional supervision. Of this number 2,284,913 were in prison or jail while 5,023,275 were on community supervision (also called community corrections). This means that about 70% of our correctional population is on some type of “alternative” sentence rather that in prison or jail. Probation alone with 4,203,967 individuals under supervision makes up the major portion of the community corrections population. One could say that in this country incarceration IS an alternative sentence. If the goal of Right on Crime and other likeminded organizations is to shift the number of people in prison into alternative community supervision programs; Mission accomplished! Fixing our criminal justice system will require more than merely reshuffling bodies or altering sentencing. We don’t need to reform the system. We must TRANSFORM it.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! We look forward to your feedback on other stories in the future.


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