Punitive sentences and packed prisons cost a lot of money, the biggest expense after Medicaid for many states. An interesting look here at how Republicans have joined, even led, the prison reform movement, including in Texas.

One in eight state workers and seven percent of most state general funds are dedicated to running prisons. With just about every state facing budget woes, prison reform—once untouchable—is hot, with the GOP uniquely positioned for the fight. “The Democrats are still afraid of a Willie Horton moment,” says Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform. “Everyone’s been terrified of being the person to legalize crack.” For reform to succeed politically, he says, it needs to be led by Republicans—“the Nixon in China phenomenon.”

It’s not just money. There is a touch of redemption theology at work, too, an element in Mike Huckabee’s famous and infamous governance in Arkansas.

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A belief in redemption does NOT mean that you shouldn’t exercise sound judgment in who benefits.

Arkansas is embarking on a similar change in philosophy, with a push to more community-based alternatives for non-violent offenders.

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