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How Conservatives Think About Mass Incarceration

| January 21, 2013

This weekend, on Bloggingheads, economist Glenn Loury and political scientist Steven Teles had a conversation about Right On Crime and how conservatives think about mass incarceration:

Professor Teles, who who co-authored this Washington Monthly article on the topic with David Dagan, says that conservatives are not exactly moderating their position on mass incarceration. Instead, they have independently (he uses the word “indigenously”) come to believe that mass incarceration violates conservative first principles. He mentions, for example, the point conservatives often make about the inevitable tendency of government to expand, and he says that conservatives are increasingly thinking about prisons with this point in mind. He also mentions that the arguments for prison reform are not being made by moderates, but by ‘dyed in the wool’ conservatives like Ed Meese, Bill Bennett, and Grover Norquist — all of whom are signatories to the Right On Crime Statement of Principles.

Similar arguments were made this week by the Texas-based criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast after the Texas Association of Business (TAB), a pro-business trade group in Austin, announced that it was adding criminal justice reform to its list of 2013 legislative priorities:

“Grits would dispute [the] contention, though, that TAB has merely copied liberals, a meme which misunderstands what’s going on here….What’s new here is a growing willingness to apply small-government conservative values to criminal justice, which in the past has sometimes seemed exempt from such critiques. This new trend has perhaps been furthered by the rising use of criminal law to replace traditional tort liability and government regulation. But as a representative of some of the state’s largest employers, TAB also cares about Texas having an educated and productive workforce, goals that are sometimes hindered by overcriminalization and a byzantine array of occupational licensing restrictions, which was a central issue the group focused on at their announcement. TAB’s entry into the criminal justice realm represents both an example of enlightened self interest and the ascendance of conservative ideology to the furthest reaches of state government activity.”


VIBRANT P. REDDY is Senior Fellow for criminal justice issues at the Charles Koch Institute. Previously, Reddy was the Senior Policy Analyst for both Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice. He has authored several reports on criminal justice policy and is a frequent speaker and media commentator on the topic. Reddy has worked as a research assistant at The Cato Institute, as a law clerk to the Honorable Gina M. Benavides of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals of Texas, and as an attorney in private practice, focusing on trial and appellate litigation. Reddy graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Plan II Honors, Economics, and History, and he earned his law degree at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and of the State Bar’s Appellate Section and Criminal Justice Section.