Texas Gov. Rick Perry said last week that he favors decriminalizing marijuana in his state, which used to define law-and-order politics. In fact, Texas hasn’t been living up to its lock-’em-up reputation for a while now; it is one of many states that has been looking for safe ways to reduce the number of people behind bars – saving money and wasted lives.
The nation is seeing a swing back from the excesses of the end of the last century, when seemingly every major politician had to propose harsh anti-crime policies to be taken seriously. The swing is to the good. With crime rates down, leaders should take the political opportunity to reform the system – while not swinging too far in the other direction. The trick is to preserve public safety but eliminate the unnecessary costs and illogically punitive penalties that came with the get-tough approach.
Not every pleasant-sounding reform will work. Many criminals deserve to be locked up, and that is expensive. Locking up criminals has been part of the explanation for lower crime rates. But that can’t justify mass incarceration. As states conducting reforms gain experience, others should follow their lead.