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COMMENTARY: The ‘right’ way for GOP to address crime

Violent crime and public safety will be a campaign issue as presidential candidates crisscross the nation. While conservatives support “law and order” and the “rule of law,” recent polling shows Republican voter views on crime and the criminal justice system are much more complex.

Republican attitudes are rooted in public safety systems that maintain peace and order, a belief in the power of redemption and the recognition that rehabilitated men and women who paid their debts to society need education, training and post-release support to become productive members of their communities.

Several GOP candidates have captured America’s concern over the violent crime destroying lives and ripping apart communities. Former Vice President Mike Pence said calls to defund the police are abhorrent and reckless. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pivoted to rogue prosecutors who refuse to do their jobs. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took Christie’s point even further, saying he had suspended “Soros-funded district attorneys” from office in Florida for dereliction of duty.

To secure Republican voter support and win the general election, candidates must be able to articulate broader evidence-based policies to solve complex criminal justice issues.

First among these policies is adequately funding police departments to provide the resources and training for police to do their jobs. Calls to defund the police undermine public safety and most harm vulnerable citizens. In a recent survey conducted by The Adams Project, 87 percent of Republicans share the view that calls to defund the police are misguided.

Second is promoting incentives and accountability in the justice system, such as the policies found in the First Step Act. The bipartisan legislation, advanced with support from former President Donald Trump, provides second chances to deserving men and women who have accounted for their crimes, pose little threat to their communities and have the tools necessary to lead productive lives in their communities.

The legislation was modeled after successful state reforms that recognized the adverse social and financial consequences of excessive incarceration that failed to prepare incarcerated people to return to society.

America incarcerates 2 million people, of which 95 percent will return to their communities one day. The First Step Act and reforms like it prepare men and women to return home and lead productive lives. The results have been highly positive. A significantly higher rate of people released under the program remain out of prison than those released before the program’s enactment.

Second-chance programs such as the First Step Act cannot solve violent crime and criminal justice system problems alone. But combined with adequately resourced and trained police, community programs that address the root causes of crime, such as mental health issues and drug addiction, increased police presence in high-crime areas, sentences that are fair and proportional to the crime and incarcerating violent and dangerous criminals, we can make our communities places where more people can lead safe, prosperous and happy lives.

Republican voters recognize this. The policies in the First Step Act “almost perfectly matched” or were “pretty close” to the views of 86 percent of Republicans surveyed. The popularity of the First Step Act among Republican voters is rooted in its alignment with conservative principles.

If incarcerated people can develop the skills necessary to support themselves and not re-offend, our police will not have to rearrest them, and taxpayers will not have to foot the bill for another incarceration. Combining accountability and rehabilitation, The First Step Act is conservative common sense.

Republican voters want to hear about policy solutions to make our streets safe. Republican presidential candidates are prudent to focus on these issues. Focusing on proper support for law enforcement and rehabilitative programs like the First Step Act will land them squarely in line with Republican voters.

Micah Derry is president of The Adams Project and a former state director of Americans for Prosperity-Ohio. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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