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How Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration

Mary Katharine Ham and Steve Teles on the story of Texas’s state criminal justice reform and what the crime debate looks like in 2016.


Steven Teles is an associate professor of political scientist at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration. Mary Katharine Ham, senior writer at the Federalist, interviewed Teles about transpartisanship, the story of Texas’s state criminal justice reform, and what the crime debate looks like in 2016.

In his book, Teles provides background on how the conservative party has changed their position on criminal justice reform, but also who influenced them in doing so. “The reason why Republicans start switching is that sense of disorder, at least where crime was concerned, went down. We had this absolutely gargantuan decrease in crime,” he said. “That really created an opening for Republicans who for their own reasons wanted to change the party’s position.”

Emotional energy and the heat from the media covering crime stories over the last year forces conservatives into their corner Teles said. “What I worry about, especially on the police side, is there’s a lot we can do to improve the quality of policing that also improves the treatment of African Americans and minorities,” he said. “But it’s hard to have that conversation when everyone is getting their tribal energy and emotion up.”

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