According to Niche, American University is the #1 Most Liberal College in America. As a conservative student at this university, I am faced with the unique challenge of being educated in an environment where the vast majority of my professors and peers have drastically different viewpoints than my own. I find my overall educational experience has been tainted by a left-leaning veil. In some ways, this challenge is a blessing, as it pushes me to dive deeper into my closely held values and remind myself of the facts upon which I base my set of beliefs. In other ways, this challenge becomes frustrating when rather than being presented with “facts” in class that are taught from a liberal perspective, I am faced with damaging perceptions of my own party that are not based on facts at all.
I find this challenge to be especially prominent in courses where criminal justice reform is at the center of the conversation. Consistently, the “facts” that are taught by my professors are that the Democrats are the party of compassion, optimism, and rehabilitative justice, while in contrast, the Republicans are the party of punishment, destructive pushes for law and order, and retributive and punitive justice. The true facts as they pertain to the Republican Party’s stance on criminal justice and prison reform, however, could not be more different from this liberal narrative.
As stated directly in the 2016 Republican Platform, which was also reintroduced as the 2020 Republican Platform, the party stands for “diversion of first-time, nonviolent offenders to community sentencing, accountability courts, drug courts, veterans treatment courts, and guidance by faith-based institutions with proven track records of rehabilitation” and emphasizes the importance of “restorative justice to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path.” Furthermore, the platform includes a discussion in favor of states offering “opportunities for literacy and vocational education to prepare prisoners for release to the community” and argues that this can aid in putting an end to the cycle of crime that begins with the children of prisoners. In reality, one of the best words I can think about to describe the Republican Party’s stance on criminal justice and prison reform is “compassionate.” Unfortunately, this view is not shared by most of the general public as left-leaning politicians and the mainstream media have painted a much different picture.
I believe the GOP did itself a disservice in 2020 by failing to update or further elaborate on the 2016 criminal justice and prison reform issue. Our party had an opportunity to change widely believed perceptions by amending the platform to reaffirm the party’s stance as pro-rehabilitative criminal justice reform. Instead, failure to do so has perpetuated the notion that the Republican Party is unequivocally “tough on crime”. The 2020 platform should have introduced updated statistics which speak to the decrease in recidivism rates, for example, with the implementation of rehabilitative justice programs. Alarmingly, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of prisoners released were arrested for a new crime within three years, and three-quarters were arrested within five years. Further, the party missed an opportunity to bolden its stance on the importance of a stable familial structure which could have been achieved by speaking to family reunification and support for children of prisoners that results from rehabilitative programs. Finally, as the party that prides itself on decisions and stances that shine a positive light on our fiscal responsibility, the platform failed to mention the financial benefit of reduced rates of recidivism.
Bringing change to the US criminal justice system is a portion of the GOP platform that finds agreement on the other side of the political aisle. It is an issue that supersedes party lines when the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation, with nearly 2.2 Americans behind bars, according to Pew Research Center. In 2020 more than ever, this was an issue that arguably caused the Republican Party to lose votes due to the false public perception of its stance. Despite such vast negativity surrounding the party, there is still room for the GOP to redeem itself and restore its reputation in the eyes of the public. Moving forward, the party must be transparent with its overarching goals and stances in an effort to stay fully in control of its societal image. As with prison reform and various other hot-topic issues, full and detailed communication is key in restoring the public image and properly communicating where the party stands.