Criminal Justice

Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan: Why Are Liberals Ignoring the Criminal Justice Reform Aspect?

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Type "Paul Ryan poverty" into Google and you'll turn up pages upon pages of recent news hits. The Republican representative's plan for "Expanding Opportunity in America" was released July 24, and since then there have been no shortage of writers and pundits both criticizing and praising Ryan's proposals. Conspicuously absent from critics' responses, however, has been much if any discussion of the plan's criminal justice reform elements

To me, these are by far the most exciting parts of Ryan's agenda. When is the last time an American politician brought up criminal justice reform in the context of poverty policy proposals? And yet a huge part of what keeps people poor is our draconian criminal justice system. As of 2008, one in every 100 people in America was in prison. We throw people in jail for the most insane reasons—possessing pot, having sex, street vending without proper paperwork—thereby already putting them (and their families) in economic jeopardy. And then we release them into a system where over-eager cops, parole officers, and bureaucrats are on the ready to issue fines or haul them back into prison should they fail to meet any number of labyrinthian requirements. 

The link between poverty and over-aggressive incarceration in the U.S. is undeniable. "During the past decade, researchers have identified serious individual and community-level harms attributable to rising incarceration," write Robert DeFina and Lance Hannon, professors of criminology and sociology at Villanova University. 

Our own work offers evidence that mass incarceration has, over time, significantly increased poverty. In many ways, this finding is unsurprising. A criminal record, for example, has been shown to decrease the likelihood of landing a job and to reduce both the level and growth of wages. And in many states, a criminal record means reduced access to the social safety net and to licenses for certain types of professions. The economic harm extends to offenders' spouses and partners, who themselves often have a harder time getting and holding a job, due to the logistical difficulties of being in a relationship with someone in prison or jail.

In a 2010 paper coordinated by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a team of leading criminologists argued that mass incarceration is highly linked to growing inequality in the United States. 

Obviously criminal justice reform alone won't end poverty, but it could help make a serious dent. And it could theoretically draw much more bipartisan support than hotly-contested ideas like reforming the tax code or social safety net. Conservative and liberal legislators in Congress have already been working together to push for sentencing reform.

Yet many Democratic politicians are strangely quiet on the subject, as were liberal critics of Ryan's poverty plan. To read many critiques, you might not even know there was a criminal justice reform element to his proposals. See: Jamelle Bouie at Slate, Annie Lowrey at New York, E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post, John Nichols at The Nation, and Pat LaMarche at The Huffington Post, to list just a few examples.

I'm not expecting these people to fawn over Ryan's poverty plan or ignore areas of disagreement—there's a lot to dislike in it, from a progressive or a libertarian perspective. But let's give credit where credit is due. Would it have killed folks to highlight some ways Ryan may have gotten it right? (Credit where credit is due: Nicole Flatow at Think Progress did just this. Update: also Jon  Walker at Firedoglake.) 

Of course, maybe these folks don't agree on the criminal justice elements; maybe they're opposed to sentencing reform, or think our prison-industrial complex has no bearing on poverty in America. But if that's the case, why not say so? Why not condemn these reform ideas, too? The fact that they didn't even mention them—while tending to support criminal justice reform under other circumstances—makes me think the omission isn't innocent but pure partisan posturing. 

And this is what infuriates me about hyper-partisans, be they politicians, pundits, or your mom. At some point actual people have to matter more than winning the news cycle. At some point you have to demonstrate that you actually give a fuck about the people more than the politics. And this is seen all too rarely, on either side of the left-right divide. 

People like to talk about how libertarians are selfish. How we all worship Ayn Rand and do the bidding of billionaires and want to make the poor polish our monocles while we're privatizing the roads. There's a myopic tendency to assume that just because we don't come to the same conclusions about how to help the poor (or the world), we don't care.

Take a look at the kinds of things Reason regularly covers: police abuse, criminal justice reform, sex work, civil liberties, parents' rightsstopping U.S. warmongering, ending regulations that make it harder for the poor and middle class to make a living, opening the borders indiscriminately. We care. Take a look at the guaranteed-basic-income supporting folks at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, the work done by people like Radley Balko and Maggie McNeill, the crusaders at IJ and Families Against Mandatory Minimums. They care. Take a look at Paul Ryan's poverty plan. The criminal-justice and occupational-liscening reform elements are ways of caring. 

Does Paul Ryan really care? I have no idea. And I don't care about that. I will take action-oriented allies where I can get them, no matter whether their motives are pure or we vehemently disagree elsewhere. Because I'm not interested in writing libertopian fanfic. I'm interested in how we can actually help people economically and actually make people more free, given current realities and constraints. I'm not willing to overlook the good in the favor of the perfect, and I wish I could say the same for more people working on and covering Capitol Hill. 

NEXT: Jacob Sullum on Rand Paul's Plan to Limit Legal Theft

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  1. Conspicuously absent from critics’ responses, however, has been much if any discussion of the plan’s criminal justice reform elements.

    Could it be that, like his stand on drone use, liberals see Paul as a threat to their power and don’t want to give his ideas any quarter, no matter how much they separately claim to agree? Or could it be that like any good leftist they’re not actually civil libertarians despite the rhetoric? Democrats control the urban centers and believe the best way to pacify their populations is being able to confine them at will. And there’s big money to made generally in a perpetual prison population.

    1. I think it’s because his opponents are Doody Heads. Of course, so is Ryan.

      However, I agree with ENB that the criminal-reform elements are what I find of interest.

      This being Washington DC, it will all come to nothing. Move along, citizen!

    2. And there’s big money to made generally in a perpetual prison population.

      Yes the government throws money at it but it’s a tremendous waste of resources that only occurs because it’s being financed by involuntary wealth transfers. Anything is big money if political institutions externalize the costs of it. I mean FDR made digging holes and filling them back up into ‘big money’ as well.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that most people see the problem as the existence of privately run prisons when the viability of the entire business model is dependent on political coercion.

    3. I think you are confusing Paul Ryan with Rand Paul.

      1. I must confess that this happens to me a lot. I wish one of them would do the decent thing and change his name to something more distinct.

        1. me too, man. i get confused all the time.

  2. Why Are Liberals Ignoring the Criminal Justice Reform Aspect?

    Because a half truth is a whole lie, and lying is how they roll.

    1. Mr. Dryden: If we’ve been telling lies, you’ve been telling half-lies. A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.

  3. Because they are unprincipled?

    1. Principals, not principles.

    2. I’m not willing to overlook the good in the favor of the perfect

      So’s ENB. BURN THE HERETIC!

      1. I believe the word you are looking for is Witch!!

        1. +1 duck

      2. ENB? Or ENPB? Has anyone administered the LPT on Ms. Elizabeth to ensure she’s One Of Us?

  4. Why would any party willingly legislate its way out of a reliable voting bloc?

  5. And then we release them into a system where over-eager cops, parole officers, and bureaucrats are on the ready to issue fines or haul them back into prison should they fail to meet any number of labyrinthian requirements.

    We, as a culture, have erected a vast infrastructure composed of people with the explicit belief their job is to round up as many people as possible and take their stuff and lock them in cages.

    It’s grotesque and shameful.

  6. mass incarceration is highly linked to growing inequality in the United States.

    Obviously the solution is to incarcerate *everyone*.

    1. Excluding the ultra-privileged wealthy and political classes, all of whom are above the law, we’re almost there.

  7. At some point you have to demonstrate that you actually give a fuck about the people more than the politics.

    You’re deep in the weeds, now. That’s crazy talk.

    1. At the very least “extremist”.

    2. “At some point actual people have to matter more than winning the news cycle”

      Not when your paycheck depends on it.

  8. Because Republicans are all evil – duh. Now Democrats, on the other hand, are all saints. Yay team!

    1. Reading your comment first could have saved me from learning the exact same thing from the comment section on thinkprogress.

  9. Principals trump principles. Team Blue will ignore this not because it is a bad idea, but because of who came up with it. You can bet that if one of their own came up with it and put the blame on Bush, Team Blue would be all over it (and Team Red would oppose it).

  10. Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan: Why Are Liberals Ignoring the Criminal Justice Reform Aspect?

    Because they’re political tribalists with no sense of justice or morality.

  11. Nice post, ENB.
    Politics are completely about elections now. Zero-sum thinking dominates- if my opponent looks good, I look bad- hence I cannot let them look good.

  12. And this is what infuriates me about hyper-partisans, be they politicians, pundits, or your mom.

    Hey, my mom is cool!

  13. I think we should do criminal justice reform because it is good in its own right, and not because minimizing the moral hazard of the welfare state is now politically inexpedient.

    I am wondering how the “You must now pay for these people’s meth and their meth-lab, and have a merry go fuck yourself” is going to work out for Ryan.

  14. Um,

    The Republican senator representative’s

    right?

    1. Sigh. Yes. Thank you. I put this up too early in the morning.

      1. Well, if that’s the worst thing that happens today it will be a pretty good day.

  15. We are, unfortunately, long pas the point where people matter more than the 24-hour news cycle. It’s not even governing any more. It’s just kabuki theater designed to perpetuate a fear-donation-extortion cycle.

    1. Long past even…

      Dear iPad,

      I don’t need any help from you to look foolish.

      Regards,

      BK

    2. “It’s just kabuki theater designed to perpetuate a fear-donation-extortion cycle.”

      I love this.

  16. Maybe for the same reason they keep talking about impeachment (ie, partisanship over policy)

  17. It’s only reasonable to ignore anything Paul Ryan proposes (if you’re not totally bored and have nothing else to do but criticize them). Paul Ryan is a typical Washington gang corrupt politician who’s constantly lying about the purpose and outcomes of what he proposes. He’s even one of those “fiscal conservatives” who pretends that huge increases in government power and spending are almost libertarian because they budget a few cents less than the other guys (out of trillions). If it’s a good idea, it’s best to discuss it with someone else and leave Paul Ryan out of it altogether.

  18. The problem (politically) with the criminal reform elements of Ryan’s plan is that the violent crime rate has dropped significantly. Any uptick (which always upsets voters) will be tied to Ryan’s reforms should they pass. And they might not be wrong. While the poverty rate is increasing, crime isn’t, so it appears the two don’t have a strong link.

    1. I think the point is that we are putting people in jail for a myriad of NON-violent crime. So while violent crime is decreasing, the incarceration rate is increasing, and all the negative aspects of it are still there, regardless of the nature of the crime.

  19. I used to play that old “Why don’t you stop hitting yourself” game with my little brother as I hit him with his own hands. Our criminal code has this game down to a science.

  20. So in the process of bemoaning how everything turns into partisan points-scoring, you’ve produced a piece that is less about the substance of the proposal and more about how those mean old liberals are such hypocrites.

    1. So in the process of bemoaning how everything turns into partisan points-scoring, you’ve produced a comment that is less about the …..

      Nevermind, you’d miss the irony anyways.

      1. Irony is a difficult concept for the mentally retarded to grasp.

        1. Sometimes, Tony’s comments seem like the work of a libertarian true genius, performing at the highest levels of ironic trollery.

          Or maybe it’s just the monkeys on typewriters producing Shakespeare effect. I think when it comes to trolling, it’s called Poe’s Law.

  21. Sure, Tony.

    Whatever you say.

  22. Principals are more important to some people than principles.

    1. Example of the day: “rogerfgay”.

    2. Case in point: I see Tony has seen fit to grace us with his special brand of DERP this morning.

  23. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m glad you care. Unlike you I don’t have a pathological hatred of the public sector.

    I’ll take the protestations of Reason editors about how liberals ignore the hidden progressivity of the Ryan budget much more seriously if I start to see articles in Reason about progressive libertarians (see: http://www.ontheissues.org/sen…..htm#Drugs, for example). Can you follow around progressives that hate the drug war with your tongues hanging out the same way you do with rand Paul?

    1. Uh, Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, not a progressive libertarian.

      Are they the same thing?

      1. Additionally, libertarian contributors to this site have consistently stated their support for engaging with anyone, regardless of political persuasion on single issue topics like ending the drug war.

      2. No, although most democratic socialists agree with libertarians on social issues. I would think that libertarians would be interested in making common cause with legislators that are pro-choice and pro gay marriage as opposed to the opposite. Quick question: does Reason mag’s sexiest Senator of all time, rand Paul , call himself a libertarian? And, yet he still makes it on 10% or so of the articles on Reason.com. I wonder how he does that?

  24. Is the thinking that it’s more important to beat the other guys than to make policy conform to your ideas of the good really more prevalent or intense than it has been?

  25. its awesome,,, Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. http://www.Fox81.com

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