The conservative approach to criminal justice:
fighting crime, supporting victims, and protecting taxpayers.

‘Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration’

| May 24, 2016

As part of a continuing discussion about criminal justice reform stemming from the DOJ’s “National Reentry Week” late last month, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel of experts to explore the themes of the new book “Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration,” by Dr. Steven Teles and Dr. David Dagan.

As Teles describes in his opening remarks, the book provides a timeline of how conservatives have increasingly become very skeptical of prison systems that have grown largely on autopilot, in many instances turning 180 degrees away from a “tough on crime” mantra that characterized much conservative thought for decades. Driven by more than simply trying to curb incarceration’s high costs—a common charge made against conservatives by the Left—they’ve sought to reform the criminal justice system, according to Teles, due to a shift towards a more “anti-statist” philosophy, a realization that decades-old sentencing structures have diminishing returns, and because of a view among evangelicals (e.g. one of Right on Crime’s first signatories, Chuck Colson) that prisoners aren’t beyond redemption.

Providing a practical example of this theory is Vikrant Reddy, of the Charles Koch Institute. Reddy, a former analyst at Right on Crime, relays the story of how Texas has set the tone for reform since its first major set of legislative proposals in 2007.

For years prior to then, elected officials commonly sought to outdo their opponents for who could be the “toughest” on crime, and as a result, prisons sprouted up to accommodate increases in incarceration. In 2007, however, politicians started to “blanche” at the possibility of building an additional capacity of 17,000 beds—“don’t build more prisons, they cost too much” was the refrain of House Speaker Tom Craddick to Jerry Madden, whom he put in charge of solving the dilemma—so instead, legislators invested $241 million to bolster alternatives to incarceration, including parole and probation, and drug courts.

The result was that Texas succeeded in averting the construction of any new prisons, has even been able to close three adult prisons since then, and has enjoyed reduced crime rates not seen since 1968. Other conservative states have been emboldened by this success, and have pursued similar reforms of their own.

Full video of the event is below: 



MICHAEL HAUGEN is a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its Right on Crime initiative.

His work for the Foundation has focused primarily on criminal justice reform topics, particularly civil forfeiture, prison reform and justice reinvestment, mens rea reform, occupational licensing, and various law enforcement and privacy issues. He’s also written about federal corporate subsidies, school choice, and gun rights.

Haugen is a graduate of Eastern Washington University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with Pre-Medicine Option, and a minor in Chemistry. He also holds an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies from North Idaho College. At EWU, he participated in academic research in a molecular microbiology laboratory for two years, investigating genetic virulence factors and pathophysiology in microbes.

His writing has appeared in National Review, The Hill, Townhall, Washington Examiner, Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Trib Talk, RedState, Ricochet, and Breitbart Texas.