How Conservatives Think About Mass Incarceration

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.”

Discussing Juvenile Justice with “Pure Politics” in Kentucky

Last month, Right On Crime’s Jeanette Moll traveled to Kentucky to present research on juvenile justice to stakeholders involved in reforming several aspects of the state juvenile system — including how it handles status offenders. A task force in Kentucky is studying the issue, and it is looking for lessons from Texas’s experience. While in Louisville, Moll sat down with Ryan Alessi of Pure Politics to discuss cost-effective juvenile justice:

U.S. Senate Hearing on the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held a hearing on “Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.” The Washington Post covered the hearing here. Click here to watch the hearing in full.

Putting “Corrections” Back in State Jails

My Right On Crime colleague Jeanette Moll has been receiving considerable attention throughout Texas for her recent publication, Putting “Corrections” Back in State Jails. The state jails were first conceived as a place to treat low-level offenders that would be more effective—and less expensive—than prison. Moll argues, however, that the state jails have drifted away from their original mission and are now indistinguishable from prisons in many respects. In fact, in terms of recidivism, the state jails may actually be less effective than prisons. Criminal justice policy in Texas has been one of the nation’s great public policy success stories over the past decade, but there is more work to be done—and Texans may want to start by improving the state jails.

Moll’s paper, published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, can be read by clicking on the link above. You can also listen to this podcast about the paper, or watch this television news feature from KEYE TV in Austin.

IJ’s New Video on the Motel Caswell Case

The Institute for Justice has posted a new video explaining the notorious Motel Caswell asset forfeiture case in Massachusetts. The case has been generating significant media attention, including an article in the Wall Street Journal and a George F. Will column in the Washington Post. Professor Ilya Somin has also written a bit about the case on the Volokh Conspiracy.

Priorities for the new ABA Criminal Justice Chair

William N. Shepherd of Holland & Knight LLP in West Plam Beach, FL is the new chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice section. Shepherd is also a former prosecutor. In his position, he has a platform to speak and be heard on whatever issue in criminal law strikes him as important. Interestingly, he is making overcriminalization a major priority. See his comments on overcriminalization from 1:06 – 2:16 in the video below.

Right On Crime at the State Policy Network Annual Meeting

Right On Crime will be hosting two events at the State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting in November. The meeting will be at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, Florida, 32034. To attend either or both events, you must be registered to attend the State Policy Network Annual Meeting. Register here.

Right On Crime Dinner:

The first event will be a dinner on November 13th, featuring Grover Norquist. Norquist, a Right On Crime signatory, will offer remarks on how free market and limited government principles can guide state public policy decisions about criminal justice.


The Plaza Ballroom


Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 7:30 P.M.

SPN attendees must register separately for the dinner here.

Right On Crime Panel Discussion on Overcriminalization:

On November 15th, Right On Crime will host a panel discussion titled “Overcoming Overcriminalization: How You Can Combat the Criminalization of Capitalism.”

Erick Erickson of and CNN will serve as the moderator.

The three panelists will be:

Paul Larkin, The Heritage Foundation

Isaac Gorodetski, The Manhattan Institute

Marc Levin, The Texas Policy Foundation and Right On Crime


Talbot D


Thursday, November 15, 2012, 4:00 – 5:00 PM

Please also be sure to visit the Right On Crime booth at the SPN Meeting.

The Extraordinary Size of the US Prison Population

Learn Liberty’s latest video examines the U.S. prison population, which is estimated to be the largest among all developed nations. Daniel D’Amico, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans, outlines the comparatively large degree of incarceration in the U.S., which may even be more extensive (as a total number and as a percentage of population) than it is in Russia and China. The costs, both economic and human, of this widespread incarceration are staggering. The level of incarceration is fiscally irresponsible and difficult to justify.

Professor D’Amico correctly points out that “the large and active role of our federal government” in criminal justice differentiates the U.S. from most other developed countries, which handle crime at the local level. It is worth mentioning that this expanded role only came about in the last 30 or so years. Historically, the federal government played only a small role in criminal justice, and never incarcerated more than approximately 24,000 people until the 1980s. Now, the federal prison population stands at approximately 218,000 inmates. Overall, the U.S.’s total incarcerated population (over 1.6 million) dwarfs that of its allies, such as the U.K. (~79,000), France (~57,000), or Canada (~35,000).

From the video:

“Perhaps the nickname ‘The Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave’ should be updated, although I suppose you need to be brave to endure the highest likelihood of incarceration the world has ever known. Prisons are not what we think about when we think of America, and they shouldn’t have to be. A free nation shouldn’t imprison so many people, and a fiscally responsible nation can’t afford to. With close to $40 billion a year in state correctional spending, the financial costs are obvious and staggering alone. But the human costs are often underappreciated; 1.6 million fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of American families are incarcerated. It’s time for people to realize that the criminal justice system in America is desperately in need of reform.”

The video, titled “US Prison Population: The Largest in the World,” can be viewed here.

Have You Committed a Felony Today?

On November 1, the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers partnered to host a training for Capitol Hill staffers titled “Have You Committed a Felony Today?”  The training was presented by criminal defense attorneys Ross Garber and Timothy O’Toole.

Testimony Before Select Committee of the California Assembly

On November 17, I testified before the California Assembly’s Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development.  The full two-hour hearing can be viewed here.  (My testimony ends at the 51 minute mark.)