Mr Williams and his Republican colleagues join the swelling ranks of conservatives who have taken up the cause of sentencing and prison reform. In February Nathan Deal, Georgia’s Republican governor, announced a bill to create a council to recommend changes in how his state sentences criminals. On May 11th Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, signed a law expanding alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders. This follows similar measures in South Carolina and Texas, both of them conservative states with Republican governors.

Driving these reforms is a simple factor: cost. Over the past two decades, crime rates have fallen but prison populations have risen. More people have been jailed for more crimes—particularly non-violent drug-related crimes—and kept there longer. Pat Nolan, a former Republican legislator from California who served time in prison for racketeering and now works for Prison Fellowship, a prison ministry, laments that “we build jails for people we’re afraid of, and fill them with people we’re mad at.”

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