David Dagan and Steven M. Teles cover conservative prison reforms:
Conservatives over the last few years haven’t gone "soft." They’ve changed their minds about what prisons mean. Prisons increasingly stand for big-government waste, and prison guards look more and more like public school teachers.
This shift in meaning on the right happened mainly because of creative, persuasive, long-term work by conservatives themselves. Only advocates with unquestioned ideological bona fides, embedded in organizations known to be core parts of conservative infrastructure, could perform this kind of ideological alchemy. As Yale law professor Dan Kahan has argued, studies and randomized trials are useless in persuading the ideologically committed until such people are convinced that new information is not a threat to their identity. Until then, it goes in one ear and out the other. Only rock-ribbed partisans, not squishy moderates, can successfully engage in this sort of “identity vouching” for previously disregarded facts.
Harold Pollack adds:
Had Mitt Romney been a more creative and supple politician, he might have tapped into these criminal justice reforms. Earlier this year, he spoke at the NAACP annual convention, delivering a tough speech decrying health reform that many people believe was specifically designed to elicit boos. Imagine if Romney had, instead, spoken to that convention in a serious way about racial disparities in incarceration rates. That would have genuinely surprised his audience.
(Chart showing prison population decline by the Bureau of Justice Statistics)