Left and Right Agree on Criminal Justice: They Were Both Wrong Before

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, based his essay on the premise that “housing policy is criminal justice reform,” noting that the harsh policing of communities of color is partly a consequence of segregation. He also called on Congress to amend the Fair Housing Act to formalize Obama-era guidance, which the Trump administration is trying to reverse, that says blanket bans on renting or selling to anyone with a criminal record are illegal because they disproportionately affect people of color.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota emphasized addiction prevention and treatment, the focus of one of her campaign’s first major policy proposals. “You can’t break the cycle of drug abuse and destructive behavior just by locking a person up,” she wrote, calling for more funding for drug courts, which impose supervised treatment instead of prison time.

In part because of the sheer number of Democratic primary candidates, liberal voices outnumbered conservatives in the Brennan Center report. But the activism in recent years has been broadly bipartisan.

“Obviously it’s good that it’s a lively subject in the presidential campaign,” said Marc Levin, vice president of criminal justice policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, who contributed to the 2015 report. But “when you have 21 voices on one side, we don’t want people to draw the wrong conclusion and think that the only energy for reform is coming from the left.”

Mr. Levin highlighted measures passed recently in both red and blue states — important developments given that the vast majority of inmates are in state prisons, not federal ones. Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure downgrading some drug-related felonies to misdemeanors. New Jersey and New Mexico revised their bail systems. Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee, a Republican, has proposed several changes.

Though there are some policy disagreements — Mr. Levin called the idea of eliminating private prisons “somewhat of a distraction,” saying other measures would be more effective in decreasing incarceration — the differences between liberals and conservatives are more in rationale than in substance.

Three conservatives in the Brennan Center report — Mr. Holden, Mr. Kushner and Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network — emphasized the system’s fiscal inefficiency and tendency to preclude second chances, while liberals emphasized racial and economic justice. But the arguments generally led them to the same place.