Turning the Tide

The Strange Bedfellows and Unknown Backdrop of Criminal Justice Reform

As a criminal justice reform bill moves through Congress with strong support from both parties, we are still less than two decades from a time when political candidates competed for the title of toughest on crime. The story of how that changed – opening the way for significant policy changes in a time of partisan gridlock – is complex. It begins with a fight over the conservative narrative around crime and punishment, moves to policy experimentation in the reddest of red states, and trickles up to national legislation and positive mentions by Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike. Throughout, conservative thought leaders, progressive activists, and mainstream funders and analysts have pursued overlapping goals, supported by distinct narratives –structural racism or big government run amok. Their partnership – sometimes explicit, sometimes tacit -- makes prison reform perhaps the greatest success of “transpartisanship” to date.

Please join us for a discussion of how activists from deeply divergent ideological frameworks joined forces to move criminal justice reform into the American mainstream. Drawing on that experience, we will look ahead to SAFE (Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective) Justice Act - a new bill introduced in June that is up for voting that proposes to reduce the U.S. prison population while also cutting crime and saving money. The event will also mark the release of the first in a series of New Models of Policy Change case studies, examining the successes and limits of transpartisanship. What can we learn from the transpartisan effort to change the way government approaches crime? Is this a model that can be applied to other issues?

Breakfast will be served and copies of the case study will be available.

Follow the discussion online using #StrangeBedfellows and following @NewAmerica and @Polyarchy.


Steven Teles
Author, Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University and Fellow at New America

David Dagan
Author and PhD Candidate in Political Science, Johns Hopkins University

Ana Yanez-Correa
Executive Director, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition

Jessica Nickel
President, Brimley Group
Former Director of Government Affairs, Council of State Governments Justice Center

Reihan Salam
Executive Editor, National Review