During the Trump administration, some “tough on crime” policies were modified to what looked like a new approach: Congress passed the First Step Act for federal prisoners, and figures on both the left and the right called for more changes. With crime rates up in some areas, many Republicans are reverting to a sterner approach. Candidates overwhelmingly want more police officers on the streets and oppose new gun laws. The New York Times summarizes their views. Former President Trump signed prison reforms, but has endorsed extreme responses to criminal acts. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to repeal the First Step Act and remove progressive prosecutors, as he has in Florida. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) supports the First Step Act and some police reform, along with higher penalties for violent crimes. Vivek Ramaswamy wants to put more people in mental institutions and make it harder to sue police officers.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley reduced incarceration and recidivism in her state. As a presidential candidate, Nikki Haley has mostly stuck to broad promises of supporting the police, getting “illegal guns off the street” and making progressive district attorneys “prosecute according to the law.” Former Vice President Mike Pence once supported the First Step Act and red-flag laws on gun possession but has retreated from both. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants less incarceration for drug-related crimes, but more for violent crimes. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, discussed in a debate the need to “enforce the law when it comes to crime” and “deal with the challenge of fentanyl.” He outlined one specific step: increasing access to addiction counseling. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has signed bills eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes and lowering drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. He also reduced penalties for technical parole violations, increased funding for addiction treatment and delayed when in the hiring process employers can ask about criminal records.