Newt Gingrich Supports ‘Misplaced Priorities,’ NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Principles

Today the NAACP held remarkable press conference in Washington, DC bringing together diverse voices from the left and the right to support our new Criminal Justice report. Politico's Ben Smith notes, "It seems like an unlikely conservative cause, but jails are, among other things, big government; they're also, often, pork. And so the NAACP has recruited another unlikely ally, Grover Norquist, to its press conference at the National Press Club this afternoon for a report titled, 'Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate.'"

The full letter is below:

APRIL 7, 2011

LETTER FROM SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH

I would like to thank President Jealous and the NAACP for allowing me to say a few words regarding our pressing need for criminal justice reform that will strengthen American families and communities.

We have a wonderful window of opportunity right now to achieve lasting change in the way in which we rehabilitate our offenders and break the devastating cycle of crime and incarceration in many of our neighborhoods. The report released today highlights many innovative solutions that rightly emphasize rehabilitation, aim to reduce recidivism rates, and fortify communities across the country that have been ravaged by mass incarceration.

The effects of rampant incarceration in recent years have been devastating for families, neighborhoods and civil society. Some of the statistics are staggering: as the Pew Center on the States reported in 2009, there are blocks in the East Side of Detroit where one in seven males in currently under some type of correctional control.

This is a tragedy, and is simply not sustainable.

An effective criminal justice system emphasizes that actions have consequences and that breaking the law must be met with swift and proportionate punishment. However, many wonderful state and local programs have recently proven that options besides incarceration are optimal for many non-violent offenders. And, when incarceration is necessary, we have a societal obligation to ensure that we use the time that the offender must give up to ensure a healthy transition back to his community and to his family as a responsible citizen.

Last year alone, we spent $68 billion on corrections in the United States - 300 percent more than 25 years ago. With this increased spending, one would hope that we would have seen successes in rehabilitation, recidivism rates, and stronger and safer communities. The results are mostly disappointing: half of this year’s released prisoners are expected to return to prison within three years. 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.

The NAACP report that is being released today, “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate,” is a critical step in advancing our national dialogue on criminal justice reform. The report highlights the ways in which our budget priorities have been skewed in recent decades, but goes on to illuminate many of the promising practices that have allowed states to intelligently reduce their prison populations and use limited resources more humanely and effectively.

The states have proven that there are innovative, data-driven approaches to reform, from community supervision programs, to more far-reaching treatment services, to more effective reentry programs. From the excellent reentry programs being developed in Michigan, to the Texas reforms that have prioritized treatment over prison time for drug offenders, the states are leading the way in building criminal justice institutions that serve our communities best.

These issues transcend partisan lines and should be of concern to Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike. 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. I recently joined with other conservative leaders to announce a Right on Crime Campaign, which challenges states to make sensible and proven reforms to our criminal justice system—policies that will strengthen the families, neighborhood institutions, and places of worship that we as conservatives believe are the central pillars of society.

The recommendations in this report should be examined closely both here in Washington, DC, and in every state capital, in order to seek their own corrections policies that strengthen our community institutions, make our neighborhoods safer, and ensure that our dollars are spent responsibly.

Again, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of this event. I am truly excited by our partnership, and look forward to working with the NAACP and other faith- and community-based groups on this issue, and any other issue where we can come together to make Americans safer, our communities stronger and our government more effective.

Sincerely,

Newt Gingrich