Many states are out ahead of the federal government on this, cutting state prison populations while still keeping crime rates low. According to Right on Crime, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the number of prisoners in jail for probation violations and offered parole for elderly prisoners, saving taxpayers an estimated $200 million a year; in Texas, under Gov. Rick Perry, alternatives to incarceration (such as parole for low-level drug offenders and drug treatment programs) have saved taxpayers more than $2 billion in money slated for prison construction, while the crime rate dropped dramatically.
The New York Times reported that Holder is trying to "pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states." Holder knows that conservative reform efforts give him political cover from "soft on crime" attacks, just as Rand Paul knows that the issue offers him the chance to lead on a major issue with bipartisan support. It's a win-win.
There's an opportunity now for something we haven't seen in a long time: sweeping, bipartisan legislation from Congress, rather than narrowly focused executive action from the administration. If the White House were smart, it would get out of the way. Republicans need to take the lead on passing legislation that, as the National Association of Evangelicals recently put it in its endorsement of the bill, would bring us one step closer to a world "where punishment keeps us safe, rehabilitates and is a wise use of our tax revenue." Amen to that.