Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Trump

What future for the right wing of the movement against mass incarceration?



"When my co-author David Dagan and I finished our recent book, Prison Break, at the end of last year, the prospects for criminal justice reform looked good," Steven Teles writes in the current edition of Cato Unbound, the Cato Institute's monthly series of online debates. "The reason for our optimism was primarily that conservatives, after having spent much of the previous four decades embracing the tough-on-crime orthodoxy of increasing incarceration, were embracing the cause of reform."

Not surprisingly, Teles has grown more worried since then. Republicans' support for reform "is becoming muddied in the age of Trump," he writes:

Trump allies Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton, for instance, are among the strongest opponents of bipartisan sentencing reform in DC. If, as I expect, the Republican Party enters into full-on civil war in the aftermath of a Trump defeat, it is likely that crime, along with immigration and trade, will be key issues in the battle between reformers and Trumpistas.

Teles' piece still holds onto some hopes for conservative criminal justice reform, particularly at the state level. But note that phrase: "a Trump defeat." Teles' article—the lead essay of this month's Cato Unbound debate—went up the day before the election.

Ordinarily a number of responses would be posted by now (Marie Gottschalk, Jonathan Blanks, and Peter Moskos are all on deck to write them), but a week has passed and none has appeared yet. I suspect Teles isn't the only writer in this month's group whose expectations are being recalibrated right now. But stay tuned—we'll soon find out just how much optimism Teles and the rest still have now that the leader of the law'n'order wing of the party is preparing to enter the White House. Will the forum become a wake?

Bonus link: Kathleen Frydl reviewed Prison Break for Reason earlier this year.

Addendum: If that's not depressing enough for you, here's Radley Balko on "The Terrifying Prospect of an Attorney General Giuliani."

NEXT: Let's Not Have an LGBT Panic over Trump's Election

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  1. RE: Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Trump
    What future for the right wing of the movement against mass incarceration?

    Ha, ha, ha!
    Criminal Justice Reform in the Age of Trump.
    That’s hysterical!
    Got any other good ones?

  2. This one worries me with Trump. If he really is re-installing all the Bush era tough on crime losers like Guliani, Christie, etc, then I would say criminal justice reform has zero chance of getting anywhere for the next 4 years. I think it’s pretty clear that Trump won because the electorate are sick and tired of these establishment hacks and Trump reviving them would be really bad policy, and a bad political move. Just because some of these hacks supported you, Trump, doesn’t mean you should let them take us back to what caused the anti-establishment movement in the first place.

    Oh well, I’m tired of the Democrats screwing things up, it’s the Republicans turn to screw things up. I mean, that’s what we should expect, anyway.

    1. Looking at Newt Gingrich’s fat mug for the next four years would kill my schadenboner pretty damned effectively.

      1. Newkeler Newt Grimgrinch. The guy who wants the death penalty for drug dealers. Yep, justice reform is a sure thing when you throw Christie and Guliani into the mix.

        The Stupid Party is back! Drink! Before it’s illegal again!

        1. I was hoping for more industry representation in El Presidento Trumpfenfuhrer’s administration. Obviously not Dimon, that’s just silly, but c’mon. Olberhelmen from Caterpillar. The way he talked during his campaign, I honestly expected his team was feeling business types up out behind the scenes to see who could get free of their commitments and wanted to make the leap into politics.

          What’s with resurrecting all of these ancient corpses from the bad old days?

          1. The only good prospect I’ve heard about is Thiel. But then I’m not sure if all of this is just pure speculation. I would like to see some actual hard facts about what Trump is doing, instead of just rumors.

    2. It’s looking like Christie is out and, if so, then good. I don’t know how much that helps any progress on reform. It may simply be up to the views of the last person to talk to Trump before he settles on a policy.

  3. I’m tattooing maps of the inside of every prison in America on my body, just in case.

    1. I wonder how long before Republicans introduce a bill to build walls around states that legalized cannabis?

    2. I’m tattooing maps of the inside of every prison in America on my body, just in case.

      C’mon, Crusty; you can be honest about your fetish around here.

    3. Be prepared to completely abandon every aspect of your tattoos by season 3.

  4. It’s only the libertarian wing of the GOP that is for justice reform, and they’re a very small minority. All the others are against it. Democrats are more in favor because their voters can’t vote if they’re in prison.

    I really just don’t see any reform on the horizon and it’s not because Trump is president, it’s because Republicans are in control.

    1. It’s only the libertarian wing of the GOP that is for justice reform, and they’re a very small minority.

      A decent number of evangelicals have come around too, and some of the state-level reforms have been propelled by budget concerns (which libertarian-leaning Republicans care about, obviously, but they aren’t the only ones).

      1. Well, we’ll see, Jesse. I’m not too optimistic right now.

        1. I’m not either. Just noting that the coalition was larger than just the libs.

  5. So, does anyone else remember Trump way back when being for ending the drug war, I mean totally ending it and repealing prohibition? Any chance that Trump reappears? Nah, he’s surrounded by conservotards.

    1. True, but I seriously doubt Hillary would’ve been any better.

      1. I’m sure she wouldn’t have been. She’s a drug warrior and it’s her charming husband who really helped put most of these tough on crime laws in place to start with. With help from a GOP congress, of course.

      2. Yeap. She would not. Totally was in favor of big government perpetually fighting the drug war.

    2. I think there’s a chance that Trump reappears. Along w several conservotards around him saying, “Of course, that’s what we’ve been for all along.”

      1. The point being, nothing succeeds like success. You’ll see many supposed conservative leaders rebranding themselves according to whatever Trump said that AM.

    1. That Trump paid for? With tax payer’s money?

    2. I hope he doesn’t threaten to sue Slate over this.

      1. The funny thing is that you know Trump doesn’t give a shit about making abortion illegal. It’s a complete non-starter and it doesn’t interest him at all, but he had to pay lip service to the single issue voters that infest the GOP. And Slate knows this, but they also know their readers are fond of panic and believe in this delusion that the media “went easy” on Trump.

        And, yes… of course Donald Trump has paid for a few abortions along the way.

        1. I completely agree.

          And, yes… of course Donald Trump has paid for a few abortions along the way.

          The clinics were in the classiest of neighborhoods, and you know he at least pretended he would pick her up after.

          1. Keep the change, sweetie.

          2. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also sprung for a nice Hickory Farms sausage and cheese sampler afterwards, too.

        2. The Party of Feminism re-framing abortion as a rotten, sleazy thing to do on the cusp of a Republican House, Senate and White House.

          STOP. HELPING.

          1. But just think… if they did prove it, then Trump would magically cease to be President and the sudden beating of angel’s wings would whisk Hillary into The White House.

        3. You can’t get pregnant just by getting your pussy grabbed, dummy.

          1. Depends on what you have on your hands.

    3. They’re gathering data to give him an award?

    4. I’m curious as to what they think this will actually accomplish. Trump doesn’t seem like the type who would actually give a shit about being called a hypocrite since he reverses himself on political policies the way most of us change our socks.

      1. So, twice a month, whether he needs to or not?

        1. Except for the Florida Men, who don’t wear socks with their sandals. Until they get old, at least.

          1. The men, their socks, or their sandals?

    5. Stay classy, Slate.

  6. It’s like this, every 4 years you get a choice. Be oppressed by Democrats and their bullshit policies, or be oppressed by Republicans and their bullshit policies. Both teams are equally anti-liberty, it’s just that they both have their own unique brands of liberty killing tactics.

    1. “A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years” – Lysander Spooner

    2. But which particular flavor of state interference can vary, so hey, there’s some intrigue there!

  7. WA, OR, and CA to become part of Canuckistan.

    Can Canada actually afford these people? How much tax money do those states receive from the fedgov? Does CA have that sort of cash?

    1. Watch out, Canadorks – the US doesn’t take kindly to states trying to leave.

      1. Good point; did not turn out well at all the last time. But at least now we are used to suspension of habeas corpus and the concept of total war. Like Grant said, “soldiers fight back too well, let’s fight the civilians instead.”

    2. Meanwhile, the proposed State of Jefferson would prefer to stay behind. Then what’s left of California would be cut off from the rest of the seceders (unless Nevada also jumped ship, in which case Jefferson would be cut off).

      I bet parts of eastern Washington would want to stay behind, too.

    3. They should revive Russian North America.

  8. I would prefer justice for the victims; the criminals have enough already.

  9. Speaking of sentences, the Minnesoda Jihadis are starting to be sentenced.

    Time served, 18 months and 10 years were handed down today.

  10. Do you think we can just spend a few more days gloating and picking out the bright spots? The left is still having a hilarious meltdown, and I don’t think any of us can enjoy it while considering the reality of Giuliani as AG

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