Source: (1999) Theoretical Crimminology. 3(2): 175-196.Crimologists have recognized that contemporary penal policy and practice are characterized by an unusual degree of incoherence and volatility. Garland (1996) sees this as evidence of the limits of the sovereign state, Simon (1995) as a sign of the postmodern disintegration of modern penality, while others explain it in terms of the emergence of advanced liberalism and neo-liberal politics. This article argues that such incoherence is better understood in terms of the contradictory elements of New Right politics. The nature of this political alliance extends the repertory of penality simultaneously in 'nostalgic' (neo-conservative) and innovative (neo-liberal) directions, resulting in considerable incoherence. At the same time, conservative to state autoritarian strategies and the neo-liberal learning toward maket and private sector governance, could account for the volatality. This brings into question some of the accounts based on more fundamental social transfermations.