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Newt Gingrich predicts prison reform will be a major GOP issue in 2016

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

“It’s just really a revolution.”

At Thursday’s Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, D.C, Newt Gingrich predicted something he thought might surprise the reporters gathered around him: every GOP candidate in 2016 will back criminal justice reform.

“My guess is that every Republican candidate…every one of them is going to be in favor of some form of criminal justice reform,” he said. “I doubt there will be a single person who runs and says ‘no, I’m opposed to that.’ If it comes up in the debates, there will be variations on a theme, but the theme will be ‘yes, that’s right.’”

Asked whether this might help conservative candidates win over new demographics, like young voters, Gingrich told Red Alert, “It hasn’t occurred to me to think about it as a millennial issue, but I’m happy to do so.”

“I think that a lot of young people instinctively favor it,” he said. “But I also think there’s a broad sense that something isn’t quite right.”

Earlier, during his general remarks, Gingrich posited this issue as “the first breakthrough in getting back to a more traditional bipartisan, sit-in-a-room-together, talk it through and produce legislation” type of congressional cooperation.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who also spoke at the event, lauded the “courage of Republicans around the country” for pursuing criminal justice reform. He name-checked Rand Paul, the Koch brothers, and Grover Norquist as part of a group of “great conservatives, fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, libertarians,” working on reform.

Liberal activist Van Jones, another featured speaker at the event, also lavished praise on Republicans, saying liberals need to stop pretending they “own” prison reform. “It’s in fact the case, and we need to deal with it, that red state governors have been far and away out-performing blue state governors on this,” he said.

On whether conservatives are primarily motivated to change the justice system by fiscal or moral concerns, Gingrich said, “The minute that you say all Americans are endowed by their creator with the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and you really mean that, and then you look at some of our prisons, you have to say those prisons are un-American. They treat people in ways that are destructive. They actually are worse when they leave them than when they go in. And nobody can feel comfortable as an American with that happening.”

He described the lingering effect of these policies, on the African American community in particular, as “horrifying.”

The event featured numerous speakers from both sides of the aisle, including remarks from Attorney General Eric Holder, and video statements directed to the conference from Barack Obama, Rick Perry and John Kasich.

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