Justice reform has become a hot topic on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress from both parties are pushing for substantive reforms that would bring rehabilitative programs to the federal corrections system, modify out-of-date sentencing laws, make communities safer, and reduce burdens on taxpayers. But reform would not be possible if conservative states had not previously paved the road.

Writing in 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies explained one of the core tenets of the United States’ constitutional system. “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory,” he wrote, “and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” This principle, which we know as “federalism,” allows states to test the waters on certain ideas and policies and, perhaps, provide a framework that could be replicated by other states.

In 2007, Texas, a state known for its strong conservative leanings and “tough on crime” stance, implemented a groundbreaking series of reforms to deal with its costly prison system and high incarceration rate. The Lone Star State faced $523 million in immediate prison construction costs and $2 billion in additional costs by 2012. The reforms, which have since been expanded, were overwhelmingly successful, leading to cost savings and significant reductions in crime and recidivism (repeat offender) rates. Georgia has adopted a series of similar reforms, which have had reduced costs and made communities safer. Other conservative states — including Alabama,…

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