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Prison Break: Why Conservatives Turned Against Mass Incarceration

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About the Event

For decades, conservatives have deployed "tough on crime" rhetoric to attack liberals as out-of-touch elitists who coddled criminals while the nation spiraled toward disorder. But over the last few years, conservatives in Washington, D.C. and in bright-red states like Georgia and Texas, have reversed course, and are now leading the charge to curb prison growth.

In this talk, Steve Teles explained how this striking turn of events occurred, how it will affect mass incarceration, and what it teaches us about achieving policy breakthroughs in our polarized age. The shift toward "smart on crime" can not only reshape our understanding of conservatism and American penal policy, but also force us to reconsider the drivers of policy innovation in the context of American politics.

About the Speaker

Steven Teles is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and fellow at the New America Foundation.

In addition to his newest book by the same title as this talk, he is the author of the Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law (Princeton University Press, 2008), and before that Whose Welfare: AFDC and Elite Politics(University Press of Kansas, 1996). He is the co-editor of two books: Conservatism and American Political Development(Oxford University Press, 2009, with Brian Glenn) andEthnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and UK(Cambridge University Press, 2005, with Glenn Loury and Tariq Modood). Professor Teles is also the editor of Oxford University Press' book series on Contemporary American Political Development. He is currently working on two co-authored books. The first, with Mark Kleiman of UCLA, tentatively calledThe Statesman's Discipline: The Art of Asking the Right Questions. His second project, with Peter Frumkin, is a developmental study of foundations over the past half-century.

Professor Teles has also published articles in the New Statesman, American Prospect, Public Interest, National Affairs, The American Interest, Prospect (UK) and Boston Reviews, appeared on and blogs occasionally at

Funding for this Event Provided by the John Templeton Foundation through a Gift from the Institute for Humane Studies.