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Newt Gingrich embraces criminal justice reform: “Prisons are graduate schools of crime”

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

(AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

A former Republican speaker of the house has embraced some aspects of criminal justice reform.

In a Louisiana newspaper, Newt Gingrich opposed imprisoning minors as adults for its negative long-term effects.

“We all can agree that breaking the law is wrong and that these teens deserve to face consequences for their actions. But tossing them into adult jails with hardened criminals just makes those bad situations worse,” Gingrich wrote with Pat Nolan, the director the the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation. “The research and data are clear: Adult jails are no place for teenagers, who with the help and guidance of parents are likely able to turn their lives around.”

Louisiana and eight other states prosecute 17-year-olds as adults, which can solidify a penchant for crime among teenagers rather than rehabilitating them.

“There is a lot of truth in the notion that jails and prisons are graduate schools of crime,” Gingrich and Nolan wrote. “An adult record makes it more difficult for them to get back on their feet. They find it much harder to get a job, enroll in college and find housing. Without employment, work skills and a stable place to live, they are far more likely to get into trouble again.”

The argument puts Gingrich beside Rand Paul, perhaps the most prominent Republican calling for reform. Among Republicans, that’s a lonely camp. The Republican candidates shied away from it during the debates, and Republican leadership has been opposed to most action during an election year, if opposed to it on principle. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton has been outspoken against criminal justice reform, calling the push “dangerous” and “threaten a return to the worst days of the 1990s, when law-abiding citizens lived in fear of their lives.”

In spite of that, Republicans have been ahead of Democrats. Republicans will vote on a resolution during their national convention, but Democrats have yet to address the issue in their party platform.

That gives the GOP an opening. Inaction among Democrats could push moderate Republicans to argue for a results-driven approach to criminal justice.

“By raising the age of how we punish and reform young people who make minor mistakes, Louisiana will help these kids turn their lives around, will make neighborhoods safer and in the process will save taxpayers money. This is being smart on crime,” Gingrich and Nolan wrote.

Being “tough on crime” is changing into being “smart on crime.” Whether it’ll catch on is so far unclear.


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