Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Of all the issues that conservatives could and should rally around, prison reform has to rank at close to the bottom of the list.

As (I believe the phrase is) 'crunchy-con' Ross Douhat writes, there are aspects of society's tendency to throw and keep criminals in jail that have negative ripple effects.

But, as we are seeing with the debate over health care, fiddling with the system can have negative consequences for the masses that far outweigh any hoped-for benefits for a relative few. And just like with health care, keeping most of America safe is a far more important goal than worrying about those who 'suffer' as a consequence of a program that pretty much accomplishes its goals.

And there is a second reason it is silly for conservatives, in the way Hot Air described Douhat's column, to 'make prison reform an issue'... there are far more important issues that affect many more people and in much more serious ways.

Since government is (despite Obama's thinking) limited in what it can and should do, time and money spent thinking about prisons is time and money taken away from other issues. Should we focus attention - any attention - on prisons while we're at risk of terrorist attack? Should we focus on prison reform while our economy is still limping along, with hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs every month?

A reasonable person, looking at the list of things that need to be done, wouldn't even think about spending time and money looking at reforming prisons. And a reasonable conservative, looking at the list of things that need to be done, wouldn't even think about recommending that we spend time and money looking at prison reform. Politicians are (at least they're supposed to be) elected to take care of issues the public wants taken care of... and, with the exception of Douhat and a few others, there just ain't much of a public outcry that we need to do something about our prisons.

Looking at prisons isn't, by itself, a dumb idea. Looking at them now is.