This essay analyses changes in public discourses about crime and justice in Spain during its political transition to democracy. The shadow of Franco's regime, the salience of terrorism, the need of the Conservatives to offer a moderate image because of their association to the old regime and the consensus around the nominal preponderance of the values of penal welfarism in a context in which there were little qualms about the use of prison contributed to the 'invisibility' of common street crime as a political issue. This situation changed in the new millennium when the Conservatives started to reap profits from their penal policies against domestic abuse and their increasingly tough rhetoric against Basque terrorism. It was the Socialists, however, that brought crime to the centre stage closely following the template laid out by New Labour in the UK. Copyright © SAGE Publications London.