The current bipartisan consensus on the need to pursue criminal justice reform has been heralded—again, and again, and again—as the long-awaited agreement that ends mass incarceration and its many ills: the incredible size and the exorbitant cost of the police and prison system; the qualities of discrimination and poverty that lead to arrests; and the preeminence of incarceration as social policy. Republicans and Democrats are finally uniting conservative and liberal values to cure a diseased system, a rot in the nation at large.
That’s the news, at least. The consensus may be bipartisan, but it’s not ideologically balanced. The language advocates use to describe the problems at hand and the nature of their proposed policy solutions demonstrate that this moment is far more concerned with mass than incarceration. Despite reports of meeting in the middle, we’re witnessing a liberal acquiescence: Nearly everything is phrased in conservative terms—cutting costs, saving funds, and minimizing the size of the system.