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Raise the Crime Rate
February 10, 2012 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Raise the crime rate: an argument for the abolition of prison.
posted by latkes (62 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd start with releasing everyone that is in prison on a marijuana charge. Possession or intent to sell. Then we can work from there.
posted by Splunge at 6:14 PM on February 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


Then legalize pot and suddenly a lot of people will have one of those swell jobs everyone thinks are so wonderful.

seriously, though, who the fuck wants a job!? I want money; I'm just willing to meet you half way.
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:23 PM on February 10, 2012


Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand how framing an argument against over-incarceration as "raising the crime rate" really helps avoid over-incarceration.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:25 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


But it’s sadism, not avarice, that fuels the country’s prison crisis.
This is only partially true.
posted by Mblue at 6:28 PM on February 10, 2012


Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand how framing an argument against over-incarceration as "raising the crime rate" really helps avoid over-incarceration.

It's meant as a provocation. He's not saying Obama should run with it as his slogan.
posted by gerryblog at 6:29 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I'm just fine having the person who would otherwise attack me incarcerated, if that's the trade off.
posted by planet at 6:29 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Prison abolitionists should be ready to advocate a massive expansion of the death penalty if that’s what it takes to move the discussion forward. A prisonless society where murderers were systematically executed and rapists were automatically castrated wouldn’t be the most humane society imaginable, but it would be light-years ahead of the status quo.

... OK I'm going to stop reading now thx.
posted by The Ted at 6:32 PM on February 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


While we obviously massively over-incarcerate, this article has several serious problems. The first one is that the murder rate *has* genuinely declined— it hasn't just moved from the free world to prison.

Second, it minimizes the impact that actually releasing nonviolent drug offenders and legalizing drugs would have and assumes that there's a "steady level" of crime that would occur whether people are in prison or not. That's actually not the case— if you legalized drugs, for example, you'd take the violence out of the trade, period. You might have other problems, but not that.

Drug trade violence wouldn't "shift" elsewhere because it's not some steam build up that has to be released— it occurs because drug dealers can't take competitors to court to settle disputes. And it wouldn't just shift to violence induced by drugs themselves due to increased use because most drug-related violence is drug-trade related violence (except for that linked to the pharmacology of alcohol).

In fact, crack use rates are actually not that much different now from the peak of the crack epidemic. Crack related murders, however, are down dramatically because they are linked to the disputes that occur when market territories are unstable (in this case, due to introduction of a new product). Product's no longer new, markets are now pretty stable and policing has gotten better such that it's focused more on violence and nuisance and less on dealing per se. This "selects for" less violent, indoor markets.

Now, this isn't to say there wouldn't possibly be a heckuva lot of other potential problems associated with full legalization of some drugs. But it's a silly argument to claim that the violence associated with the drug trade would just "pop up" elsewhere if you legalized since that's not what happened at the end of Alcohol prohibition and it's not a sensible model.
posted by Maias at 6:34 PM on February 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


Prisons are nothing more than Criminal Factories; a relic of a bygone era that should have been abandoned as a Government policy long ago.

There's been numerous studies that show prisons do more harm than they do to rehabilitate. People go in there, for anything as trivial as fine defaults or drug possession, and then they get mixed in with the murderers and the rapists. The guards treat them like dirt because they can't afford to treat anyone in there without suspicion. After this thoroughly dehumanizing experience, they come out worse than before.

And it gets even worse when you privatize your prison system, as America has done. Then suddenly you find more excuses to lock people up, and most of those people tend to be underprivileged and/or not white. And again, once people go into the Criminal Factory, they come out worse than they ever may (or may not) have been before.

There's definitely something to be said for ensuring that the worst of the worst stay away from general society. But prisons aren't the answer for every crime people can be sent to prison for. The reason they still exist is because lazy legislators, fearful of a voter backlash for looking "soft on crime", can't be bothered coming up with a real alternative.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:36 PM on February 10, 2012 [8 favorites]




Maias: I agree with some of your critique in part, but he does actually make the same point you do about crack,

"Meanwhile, back on the battlefield of the war on drugs, crack continues to be consumed in nearly the same quantities as in 1990. But a huge price drop destroyed the handsome margins of the crack trade and virtually eliminated the violence associated with it. The crack-crime epidemic is gone, but the incarceration complex it fomented lives on. As a result, one in three black baby boys can expect to spend part of his life in prison."

One limitation of the article from my view is he doesn't actually stick to one case for abolition. He starts by claiming that we've just moved crime into the prison system (which I think is partially true) but then makes other arguments, such as this one about crack, that are inconsistent with that point. Overall though I thought it raised a bunch of thought-prevoking points.
posted by latkes at 6:43 PM on February 10, 2012


This idea interests me because it is so impractical as to be science fiction. There is just flat no way in hell that the idea of prison abolition could gain a foothold in American politics as we know it today. However, there was also no way in hell that the idea of an African-American president could have gained a foothold in American politics as it was known in 1812, and yet here we are.

I am willing to believe that in two hundred years, an American society could move past prisons. But as with many other societal gains, it would be dependent not merely on changing minds but changing demographics, changing economy, changing world conditions. A thousand things must go right in only tangential ways to create an American society that could exist without a prison system. (I say "an" American society, because I'm pretty sure that by that time there will be more than one country here.) It's an enormous and intriguing topic to contemplate.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:49 PM on February 10, 2012


Dark Messiah: "Then legalize pot and suddenly a lot of people will have one of those swell jobs everyone thinks are so wonderful.

seriously, though, who the fuck wants a job!? I want money; I'm just willing to meet you half way.
"


Can't tell if serious or just troll.
posted by Splunge at 7:06 PM on February 10, 2012


How about making prisons better places to live, instead? The for-profit prisons will need to get paid for this, meaning they'll like it; economic conservatives will be angry at the expense, of course, but if it boils down to either making prisons prettier or releasing prisoners I expect most will choose the former.

I hear military prisons are pretty tight ships. Since we've got such a bloated military budget anyway, and they are actually supplying our police at the moment, why not cut out the middleman and send some prisoners their way?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:07 PM on February 10, 2012


The United States of America has an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 of national population (as of 2009), the highest in the world. Also, the United States is nowhere close to being one of countries with high per capita murder rates. What this means is that the United States can afford to jail people for non-violent offenses, such as drug possession, while other countries struggle with more deadly crimes.

We can afford to put people in prison for offenses that elsewhere wouldn't merit prison time. Is it worth it?
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:10 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's worth it for people in the prison business.
posted by edguardo at 7:14 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, the United States is nowhere close to being one of countries with high per capita murder rates.

The link goes to a list of only European countries, I think?
posted by palliser at 7:15 PM on February 10, 2012


We can afford to put people in prison for offenses that elsewhere wouldn't merit prison time.

Last I checked, most city, state, and national governments in the US were running huge deficits and struggling to get their budgets in balance. Are you sure we can actually afford this?
posted by hippybear at 7:23 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, the United States is nowhere close to being one of countries with high per capita murder rates.

D.C. is.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:27 PM on February 10, 2012


A prisonless society where murderers were systematically executed and rapists were automatically castrated wouldn’t be the most humane society imaginable, but it would be light-years ahead of the status quo.

North Korea's been working on a new slogan, I see.
posted by scody at 7:28 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Last I checked, most city, state, and national governments in the US were running huge deficits and struggling to get their budgets in balance. Are you sure we can actually afford this?--hippybear

This is a key argument. I think a lot of people have a dark-age mentality that it doesn't matter how bad the conditions are because these people broke the law and deserve anything they get.

But when they see it as outrageous spending, which means big government and big taxes, then maybe they'lll listen.
posted by eye of newt at 7:32 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is considerable amount of "lying with statistics" in counting Americans in prison for marijuana related crimes. 1-in-8 prisoners are held on marijuana charges (which seems like a lot!), but less than one percent are in jail for ONLY a marijuana charge. In most of the cases the marijuana charge is secondary to a more serious offense.
Reference here: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/oct/08/will-prop-19-cut-law-enforcement-costs/
posted by gyp casino at 7:38 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Punishment suffices to justify prison.

Morally, a society that doesn't punish violence harshly would be one that doesn't sufficiently value human life or the right to live in peace.

I don't have a problem with paying heavily for this as a taxpayer.

Criminals choose their own path and by their actions take on the risk of forfeiting their freedom. Prison isn't a moral problem at all.
posted by knoyers at 7:46 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The United States has more political prisoners than any other country. We just don't think of them as "political prisoners". What I mean by this is that the U.S. often jails people for being politically incorrect, rather than for hurting other people. People taken prisoner during the War on Drugs weren't necessarily hurting other people, but they were being politically incorrect.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:50 PM on February 10, 2012


Prison isn't a moral problem at all.

Prison isn't a moral problem, no.

A prison system which counts rape and inmate-on-inmate violence and treating offenders as something less than human as part of the supposedly deserved punishment for crime is a moral horror.
posted by hippybear at 7:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


There is considerable amount of "lying with statistics" in counting Americans in prison for marijuana related crimes. 1-in-8 prisoners are held on marijuana charges (which seems like a lot!), but less than one percent are in jail for ONLY a marijuana charge. In most of the cases the marijuana charge is secondary to a more serious offense.

Right, but if the marijuana conviction added to the time served...? Prisoners released sooner = fewer prisoners in the prison.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:51 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The right solution to the existence of rape in the prison system is not keeping the criminals and rapists outside of the walls.
posted by knoyers at 8:06 PM on February 10, 2012


This article is all over the place with unoriginal sentiments and a convoluted timeline. Does it even advocate "abolishing prison"?
posted by destro at 8:14 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Punishment suffices to justify prison.
Morally, a society that doesn't punish violence harshly would be one that doesn't sufficiently value human life or the right to live in peace.
I don't have a problem with paying heavily for this as a taxpayer.
Criminals choose their own path and by their actions take on the risk of forfeiting their freedom. Prison isn't a moral problem at all.


That's an awfully Just World you're living in. The one the rest of us are in works just fine without torturing the poor.

Also, fuck your opinion as a taxpayer. Pay your taxes and shut the fuck up.
posted by Sphinx at 8:17 PM on February 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Splunge: "I'd start with releasing everyone that is in prison on a marijuana charge. Possession or intent to sell. Then we can work from there."

twoleftfeet: "... the United States can afford to jail people for non-violent offenses, such as drug possession, while other countries struggle with more deadly crimes. We can afford to put people in prison for offenses that elsewhere wouldn't merit prison time. Is it worth it?"

As the article discusses, talking about people in prison on petty drug charges is missing the point, since comparatively few people in prison are there on a nonviolent drug charge:

"When evaluating the impact of the war on drugs on the country’s incarceration crisis, it helps to keep in mind a statistical nuance: a large fraction of prison sentences are for nonviolent drug offenses, but a small fraction of the prison population is in for a nonviolent drug crime. This is because, despite the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences, drug criminals don’t spend nearly as much time in prison as other kinds of criminals. It’s tempting to believe that we could free most of the prison population simply by liberating nonviolent drug offenders. Nonviolent drug offenders are 'innocent'; they haven’t hurt anybody. Advocating on behalf of criminals is much easier when they haven’t committed any violent crime. And yet this misses the point of the prison crisis: you cannot relieve the suffering of the prison population without increasing safety risks for the rest of us."

This is kind of an essential point, and one I think we're in danger of passing over here. It's very easy to talk about the drug war and bring this up, telling ourselves that these broad swaths of people are in prison on totally frivolous charges, and that we can just release them and keep the "really dangerous" people inside. That is not an option, and talking about it that way is a recipe for letting things stay the same. If we released all the nonviolent drug offenders from prison tomorrow, almost nothing would change, largely because they don't make up much of the prison population.

We need to talk about more radical steps, and I think this article does an admirable job of trying. It's easy to talk righteously about freeing people who aren't really guilty of anything beyond smoking something pleasant - easy, but pointless. The really tough thing is, for instance, to talk about releasing murderers - or to talk, as this article does, about summarily executing all murderers (and castrating the rapists.) Those are not pleasant things to contemplate, but as the article points out, they would be better than what we've got now.
posted by koeselitz at 8:19 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm hardly advocating for the conclusions of the article from this FPP.

But your earlier comment suggests that criminals deserve what they get while in prison, as part of their harsh punishment.

If you really want to make your case about incarceration and your willingness to pay for it stand on a moral ground, you certainly need to be speaking out against the nightmare which has become of our penal system, not implying that you support the style of harsh punishment which we current mete out on offenders. Because nobody deserves to be raped and traded by gangs for fear of their life, not even those who have broken laws and deserve to serve time. Nobody.

The idea of abolishing the prison system, as laid out in this article, is something that nobody really takes seriously. The conditions within prisons it describes don't seem to be overblown based on the amateur research I've done on the topic. It sadly cheapens its own point by calling for some ludicrous end solution which simply isn't a solution at all.

Creating a prison system which works toward reform of offenders, not one which seeks to punish them in the least humane way possible, should be what we are working toward. Not being happy that the bad people are getting "what they deserve", but being frustrated that the choices they made were bad ones to begin with and helping them toward becoming productive members of society after they are released. Not the current status quo of continuing their sentence by stripping them of citizen rights and making sure they can never get a job that lets them rise out of the bottom 10% of our society. But by allowing them to walk away after they have served their time with a fresh start into a life which might have possibilities, having been given the best possible care and education and counseling so we as a society can hope that the fresh start might actually have a different outcome from the path which led them toward prison in the first place.

Everything in our current system is completely antithetical to what we really should be doing with prisoners. That so many people think it's justified earns my outrage.
posted by hippybear at 8:19 PM on February 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


knoyers: "Punishment suffices to justify prison. Morally, a society that doesn't punish violence harshly would be one that doesn't sufficiently value human life or the right to live in peace. I don't have a problem with paying heavily for this as a taxpayer. Criminals choose their own path and by their actions take on the risk of forfeiting their freedom. Prison isn't a moral problem at all."

I get the feeling you didn't read the article. You have some problem with executing murderers and castrating rapists?
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 PM on February 10, 2012


Everything in our current system is completely antithetical to what we really should be doing with prisoners. That so many people think it's justified earns my outrage.

This right here.

That any person can justify the absolute barbarity of the US Prison system is abhorrent. Burn it down and start anew, because what we currently have is so bad as to be indescribable.
posted by Sphinx at 8:31 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


For more context to the prison abolition movement: an interview with Angela Davis on the subject.
posted by latkes at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The one the rest of us are in works just fine without torturing the poor.

So then the status quo as far as prison is concerned must be fine with you, lol. Is that what you meant?

Pay your taxes and shut the fuck up.
posted by Sphinx at 8:17 PM on February 10


Of course I do.

I get the feeling you didn't read the article. You have some problem with executing murderers and castrating rapists?
posted by koeselitz at 8:22 PM on February 10


I read it. I think that the author patronizes criminals by ignoring their ability to make choices, while having a very callous attitude towards all those extra innocent victims when crime rises to the higher level that he considers appropriate after prison abolition.

I don't think rapists should be castrated but I am not entirely against capital punishment.

Ideally prison should be less of a warehouse and more concerned with the present and future welfare of inmates. Saying that there can be no prison improvement, only a goal of prison abolition, does not make sense either in terms of logic, politically or in practical terms in our society.

However for the worst crimes, such as cold blooded murders, I don't think there should be any concern on the state's part for the redemption of a damaged individual. In that situation, the punishment should be the equivalent of a total "f__k you; goodbye" from society.
posted by knoyers at 8:47 PM on February 10, 2012


The first half of the piece was compelling. I'll just pull this:

In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

I have no words. That's not something I had actively contemplated, the scope of that - and I'm sure almost no one else does either. Prison allows the rest of society to forget about people rather than deal with them; it allows the rest of society the privilege to not have to understand what brought someone to that point, what larger forces are arrayed against them, what they have to go through while they're in there, and what they have to go through when they leave - the righteous can say simply "well, surely they deserve what they get for the crimes they committed" and that is that.

Then, of course, the piece lost me with its rather needle-scratch jump to its radical proposal. An absolute reform of the system, yes - I expected to read about rehabilitation ideas, thoughts on reintegrating or never being removed from society to begin with, something along the line of that Norwegian prison island and so forth. But advocating the death penalty being used more often? The death penalty has major problems - the execution of innocent people, the awful skew to minorities - if the prison system is so broken (and I do think it is) replacing it entirely with releasing criminals into the general population with no rehab/reintegration AND stepping up on another broken system, the death penalty - this is not a solution at all.
posted by flex at 9:00 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Let's face it. The United States prison system is not about rehab. It's about punishment. And that doesn't work. I know a bunch of guys and a few women who have been through "the system".

It just does not work. What would be better? Fuck me if I know. But I do know that the present system is flawed in a big way. People that I know personally told me that they learned how to be better at whatever they did, in jail.

Some of the most dangerous people I ever hung out with were multiple recidivists. And they were proud of it. Part of the problem is that the thug mentality in the USA is a big issue.

What to do? Kill them all? I don't think so. If you have a solution I'd like to see it here. Otherwise we have a meat-grinder kind of system that just makes people who make mistakes into true criminals.
posted by Splunge at 9:17 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You have some problem with executing murderers and castrating rapists?

I have a huge problem with castrating anyone for any crime. It's unconstitutional.

I only wish that murderers and rapists were a "vanishingly small number of people" out of the US population of 300 million. Unfortunately, they're much more common than the author seems to think. This is an unserious article that tries to hand-wave away the reality of how much crime is out there and how bad it is. Maybe the author doesn't much care or know about the reality of extremely common violent crimes, but I've learned the details of too many murder, rape, assault, and burglary cases to be so cavalier. Try immersing yourself in the details of a single criminal case where an innocent person has been seriously hurt, and see if you can honestly say you don't want the defendant to serve a significant sentence.

Obviously none of that means everything is fine. If we want to have a reasoned discussion of how to reduce the incarceration rate, deemphasize victimless crimes, remedy racial disparities, etc., I'm all for that. But the author's apparent attempt to balance out his anarchistic proposal (get rid of prisons!) by throwing in some ill-conceived fascism (bring on the executions and castrations!) is not reasoned; it's ludicrous.
posted by John Cohen at 9:19 PM on February 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


As the article discusses, talking about people in prison on petty drug charges is missing the point, since comparatively few people in prison are there on a nonviolent drug charge: "When evaluating the impact of the war on drugs on the country’s incarceration crisis, it helps to keep in mind a statistical nuance: a large fraction of prison sentences are for nonviolent drug offenses, but a small fraction of the prison population is in for a nonviolent drug crime. This is because, despite the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences, drug criminals don’t spend nearly as much time in prison as other kinds of criminals.

This would seem to imply that short-term prison churn isn't an issue... but it is, and it leads to its own class of problems, including a widespread mistrust of the police which both leads to crime and makes crime more difficult to deal with. Parole and probation (which are a major part of the reason why "drug criminals don’t spend nearly as much time in prison as other kinds of criminals") also have their problems, and are a primary driver of prison sentences in and of themselves ("the total adult probation population supervised in California has increased by 15 percent over the past decade, from about 300,000 probationers in 1997 to roughly 350,000 probationers in 2007. [...] counties reported that most adult probationers in 2007 were convicted for drug (41 percent) and property (23 percent) crimes. [...] In 2007, about 40 percent (or about 80,000) of adult probationers removed from probation had their probation term revoked, usually resulting in a jail term, the imposition of additional probation time or conditions, or a sentence to state prison. Less than half ended with the successful completion of probation."

I agree that drug legalization isn't a silver bullet for the prison problem, but it's both an obvious and necessary starting point. By any measure we are spending a massive amount of time and effort on arresting, supervising, and in many cases re-arresting drug offenders, and that's time and effort we could be spending on prison reform.
posted by vorfeed at 9:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Wow. I almost have to admire how skillfully he constructed this piece. What he wants to do (“Raise the crime rate.”) is right there in the title, but it’s many many pages before we learn just exactly what he means by that and why he thinks his desired action (of all possible actions) is the best response to the problems with the prison system.

He hints at it in a long, word-heavy opener about collectivization of risk, and after the first 500 odd words, gets where is is going and states the idea that the ongoing, 30+ year drop in US violent crime has happened by routing “criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells.”

(In other words, that we have less violent crime because we are concentrating violent criminals in prison, where they are harming the other prisoners there).

Okay, yes, I’ll buy that is true. And I couldn’t agree more that prisons and the criminal justice system need overhauling. Reading on to find out why the answer is to “Raise the crime rate.”

But this is where the skillfulness comes in. He doesn’t get all the way into how he wants us* to “collectively risk” more violent crime, by abolishing prisons and releasing all the violent criminals, until the very end. (*Mainly women, it seems to me). Why that action, of all possible actions including all kinds of reform, is the best one.

Instead, beginning immediately and proceeding for the next several thousand words, he throws huge chunks of red meat at us. All those horrific facts about prisons and post prison life. Rape, racism, murder, unreported abuses, long incarcerations for petty stupid crimes. Ridiculous drug sentences, in fact the whole “drug war” and the community devastation it’s created. How ridiculously difficult it is to find employment and rebuild a life as an ex-con.

All those horrific facts are so, so true. They are horrifying and angering.

And they are so horrifying and angering that it is very easy and natural not to notice that the author has never actually presented an argument for why his proposed solution (abolishing prisons completely and letting out everyone, even the most sadistic rapists, murderers, pedophiles, etc.) is the best response to those facts.

Seriously, he never does.

I mean, he definitely states that his response to these facts (as opposed to reform) is the best one. Just never why.

He goes on a bit of an apparent tangent about recent White House successes in reforming “multiple reformable domains, including credit markets, the health care system, and public education.”

But the next line down he says: “But America’s incarceration crisis is not a reformable problem.” Okay, I’m listening. Why is it not reformable? Why were those systems reformable but not this one? He doesn’t say. He lists 4 people/entities who cannot achieve reform. But 0 reasons for why the problem is not reformable.

He says: “The US prison system doesn’t need reform—it needs to be abolished.” Okay, I’m still listening. Why? He doesn’t say.

A little bit further down it starts getting weird. Remember all that red meat he was just throwing us for the past several thousand words about the fucked-up drug laws, and the non-violent offenders living in torturous conditions with the violent ones? All of a sudden he lets us know that was besides the point:

“[A] large fraction of prison sentences are for nonviolent drug offenses, but a small fraction of the prison population is in for a nonviolent drug crime. This is because, despite the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences, drug criminals don’t spend nearly as much time in prison as other kinds of criminals.



It’s tempting to believe that we could free most of the prison population simply by liberating nonviolent drug offenders. Nonviolent drug offenders are “innocent”; they haven’t hurt anybody. Advocating on behalf of criminals is much easier when they haven’t committed any violent crime.”
[At this point I’m nodding my head and thinking, well yeah! I do believe that we could free a nice sizeable chunk of the prison population by liberating the nonviolent drug offenders. What is the reasoning for your disagreement? The rest of his paragraph is:]
“And yet this misses the point of the prison crisis: you cannot relieve the suffering of the prison population without increasing safety risks for the rest of us.
And increasing those risks, from a moral standpoint, is the right thing to do.”
Nothing. No reasoning. No explanation of WHY reform and release of non-violent drug offenders wouldn’t help, WHY he thinks our only option is to let out all the rapists and murderers. Just word salad, and a completely unexplained and unsupported claim to the moral high ground.

The most random part of all is when he’s talking about what to do with violent offenders:

“An important part of that answer has to be that we must simply put up with an increased level of risk in our daily lives. But what about Charles Manson? … [If]the primary purpose of prisons is to keep us safe from (the vanishingly small number of) people like Charles Manson, then we should simply kill Charles Manson. Prison abolitionists should be ready to advocate a massive expansion of the death penalty if that’s what it takes to move the discussion forward. A prisonless society where murderers were systematically executed and rapists were automatically castrated wouldn’t be the most humane society imaginable, but it would be light-years ahead of the status quo.”
Uh, okay. So a massive expansion of the death penalty and castration would be an okay solution but letting non-violent drug offenders out wouldn’t work at all? Yeah…

But here is the place where we start running into his contradictions and errors of logic.
Didn’t he spend the entire 700-word opening of this piece talking about how we only THINK the crime rate has gone down, because all of these people are in prison? That means there isn’t actually a “vanishingly small number of people like Charles Manson.” That means there’s quite a few.

Or maybe he means that it’s vanishingly rare for someone, like Manson, to kill random strangers. And one place of several in the piece where I run into the misogyny I alluded to at the start.
At the end of that bit he says “Interestingly, unlike rape, homicide has one of the lowest recidivism rates of any crime—you can only murder your wife once.”

Wow, so I guess a man who has murdered his wife isn’t someone the rest of society wouldn’t really need to concern itself with. That is, those members of society who because of their gender wouldn’t ever be wives. Partner violence is incredibly, incredibly common. Repeat partner violence against subsequent partners is incredibly, incredibly common. Women are overwhelmingly the ones who face partner violence. If he’s saying we shouldn’t be worried about murderers because they’re not likely to murder strangers, then he’s not concerned with the gender who is most often murdered by people they know. He wants to “spread the risk” of violence and it’s quite clear who the risk of partner violence spreads to.

That gets even clearer when he talks about rape. Love how he thinks it’s a plus to say that “unlike rape” murder has a low recidivism rate. Perhaps though, he’s not that concerned about it because he’s not of a demographic with a very high risk of rape. He says he wants to share risk, but this is a risk that most likely won’t be shared to him.

Near the start he says:
“The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.”
It is utterly disgusting and enraging that his proposed solution to this would be “share the risk.” Not, you know, stop prison rape, stop all rape. Just, let the rapists out and spread the rape around more people.

The really chilling part of this is – remember, he says we’re concentrating crimes onto prisoners and we should now share them back among society. And see in that above quote he says that due to the prison system, we’re the first country in the world to have more rapes for men than women. So he knows in the absence of the prison system is would be a higher proportion of women getting raped. The logical conclusion is he believes the moral thing is that women take on more of a share of being raped. I truly believe that if I asked him this straight out he might not deny it.

I am now feeling unmitigated fury that rather than finding a way to get non-violent inmates out of prison, or keep them safe, he just wants to let these violent offenders out so that we can all “share the risk” of being raped and murdered. Except for him, because he’s not at much of a risk of it. When his risk equals mine then he can suggest this.

All of that aside though, I found this to be an emotionally manipulative piece that was poorly argued. Or rather, largely WASN'T argued. Guess he thought nobody would actually read the end, and would just gorge themselves on all that red meat and work themselves into an unthinking lather before they got there. He's not the rebel hero truthteller of a "radical and uncompromising" popular movement as fancies himself to be, at least not that of any "popular movement" I would ever want to be a part of.
posted by cairdeas at 9:46 PM on February 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


["Shut the fuck up" is pretty far beyond "healthy respectful discussion," and absolutely not okay. No more of that.]
posted by taz at 9:54 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it’s sadism, not avarice, that fuels the country’s prison crisis.
This is only partially true.


It's not even partially true. There is no prison crisis: only limitless prison opportunities!

Prisons are "The Best Kept Secret in Outsourcing."

Where else can you get "U.S. based outsourcing at offshore pricing"!?!?

I wish those were just sick jokes and not actual sales pitches, but sadly...
posted by saulgoodman at 9:54 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So then the status quo as far as prison is concerned must be fine with you, lol. Is that what you meant?
---
One such complaint was filed in 1995 by Rodney Hulin, a boy from Amarillo, Texas, who had been arrested as a 15-year-old after throwing a Molotov cocktail into a pile of garbage. The trash burned, causing about $500 worth of damage to the exterior of an adjacent house. Hulin’s prank was unimpressive, but Texas in the mid-’90s had little tolerance for teenage ruffianism; in 1994, George W. Bush had become governor, defeating Ann Richards, a popular incumbent, by depicting her as soft on crime. Hulin was charged with two counts of second-degree arson. He was a small guy—just five feet tall and 125 pounds—but he got a big sentence: eight years in adult prison.

Within a month of arriving at Clemens Unit, a temporary holding facility outside Houston for juveniles on their way to adult prison, Hulin was raped by another inmate. He asked to be moved out of harm’s way, but his request was denied, and the rapes continued. In a letter to prison authorities, he wrote, “I might die at any minute. Please sir, help me.” Help was not forthcoming: getting raped was not deemed urgent enough to meet the requirements of the prison’s emergency grievance criteria. When Hulin got his mother to complain to the prison’s warden, she was told that Hulin needed to “grow up” and “learn to deal with it.”

Hulin’s method for dealing with it was to kill himself. Ten weeks after his arrival, he was discovered dangling from the ceiling of his cell.
That's lulzworthy, in your mind?
This is an unserious article that tries to hand-wave away the reality of how much crime is out there and how bad it is. Maybe the author doesn't much care or know about the reality of extremely common violent crimes, but I've learned the details of too many murder, rape, assault, and burglary cases to be so cavalier. Try immersing yourself in the details of a single criminal case where an innocent person has been seriously hurt, and see if you can honestly say you don't want the defendant to serve a significant sentence.
Reading about the details of individual crimes don't tell you anything about the prevalence of actual crime. How much time do you spend looking over the details of all the non crimes out there, all the everyday people going through their lives not being attacked? Because that's what matters, comparatively. How do you think the parents of that kid who was raped and killed himself in prison, at age 15, felt? Why exactly should we not care about that while caring about the victims of other crimes?

I mean, it makes no sense at all. If you say we should be outraged about violent assaults, why should we not be outraged about violent assaults that happen in prison?

Anyway, it would obviously be possible to prevent prison rape if the state had any interest in doing so. You just have to keep the prisoners physically separated.
posted by delmoi at 10:02 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact that the criminal justice system is gradually being transformed into a private profit center for wealthy Republican investors should be all the anti-prison argument anyone ever needs to hear.

And yes, we should be very afraid of the rise of for-profit prison labor and prison privatization, because if there's anything history has shown, it's that if you give people half an opportunity to socially legitimize and economically incentivize depriving others of their freedom and autonomy in order to exploit them for labor, it won't take long for investors to sign up.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:03 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Near the start he says:
“The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.”


We're likely to see this rate rise even more now that the FBI has changed its definition of rape, which for decades was limited only to forceable vaginal penetration. I'd love to see a massive reporting of prison rape to the FBI, who would then be forced to either investigate or have to publicly overlook gigantic numbers of reported crimes. Maybe that's the first step toward actually reforming our prison system.
posted by hippybear at 10:05 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyway, it would obviously be possible to prevent prison rape if the state had any interest in doing so. You just have to keep the prisoners physically separated.

That's really only a stop-gap measure, and probably would be required at first.

Ultimately the way to stop prison rape would be to dismantle the culture within (and without) prison which thinks it's acceptable and even expected for prisoners to be raped. Remove the expectation, dismantle the moral acceptability, remove those who engage from the general population, and you'll find that it will, to a great extent, stop.

It exists to the extent that it does because it's considered okay, by prisoners, by the prison workers, by the legal system, and by the populace at large. That programming needs to be interrupted, changed, and erased.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Burn them to the ground.
posted by broadway bill at 10:31 PM on February 10, 2012


The article starts out with some interesting observations but fails to analyse them correctly (or, at all) and then comes to, frankly, dumb solutions.

A huge part of the problem is that the system is based on individual punishment rather than on making society better. The author's solution of polarizing punishment is remarkably short-sighted in that it only looks at dealing out punishment in a different way. An article of this ambition need to take into account more modern approaches, some of which are actually in effect in several countries.

Besides ignoring the rehabilitation-based approaches of other countries the author seems to view crime as something inevitable, the criminal as a (genetic?) type that can't help himself but be criminal. This is not only incredibly racist but also simply untrue. The crimes happening in the prison system are not crimes that would otherwise happen in the inner cities.


Also, burn them to the ground!
posted by patrick54 at 12:14 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


why not just ship criminals to offworld colonies

the challenge of surviving in a hostile environment will help them learn to be less antisocial, they won't be able to escape by flying or swimming back, it provides a reason to spend money on science and technology that will benefit us all, it will teach them valuable technology skills that they can use to become employed when they return to earth, and it allows us to use space conditions in research and manufacturing

i think that this might be a pretty decent solution. maybe it's not what we'll go with, but it could work.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:06 AM on February 11, 2012


If he’s saying we shouldn’t be worried about murderers because they’re not likely to murder strangers, then he’s not concerned with the gender who is most often murdered by people they know. He wants to “spread the risk” of violence and it’s quite clear who the risk of partner violence spreads to.

I also picked up on Glazek's dismissive attitude toward violence against women. Thanks for putting it better than I could. He wants to harness the anti-government-spending attitudes of the Tea Party to achieve his goals, which means that even disregarding his own casual misogyny, anything involving protecting women's lives will be cut as a frill.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:24 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


@twoleftfeet: re: "Also, the United States is nowhere close to being one of countries with high per capita murder rates"

What kind of bullshit is that list?

I don't know where there data is coming from or how they chose what countries to put on the list but the U.S. would definitely make the top ten or twelve in that particular list of countries.

better list which confirms what I thought to be true: US has the highest homicide rate of any western industrialized nation.

It is instructive to compare with this with the list of countries by gdp per capita.

The only country in the top 40 on that list with a higher homicide rate than the U.S. is the Bahamas.

The Bahamas is visited by 1.3 million American tourists per year, which is 4 times their actual population.
posted by lastobelus at 6:40 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Prison isn't a moral problem at all."

1 in 3 black american males will spend part of their life imprisoned. 1 out of 3.

Only an American or a sociopath could get the words "Prison isn't a moral problem at all" out of their mouths in response to this state of affairs.
posted by lastobelus at 6:57 AM on February 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


cairdeas, his reasoning for dismissing the usefulness of letting out nonviolent offenders in reducing overall prison population is that "a small fraction of the prison population is in for a nonviolent drug crime." So let them out, sure, but that's not going to reduce prison populations by enough to make a real difference.

Completely agree, though, that falling crime rates benefit women especially, and the risk of letting out violent criminals would fall much more heavily on women (and children). I bet a lot more rapes and murders of women just went unpunished before modern forensics, not to mention changes in attitude about how okay it is to kill one's wife. That's one way to keep the prison population down, but it's not one I can get behind.
posted by palliser at 8:49 AM on February 11, 2012


What kind of bullshit is that list?

It's a list from the European Institute for Crime Prevention, and only includes European nations. I think it was just a mistake on the part of the commenter; the US has a high (maybe even unparalleled) murder rate considering its prosperity and governmental stability.
posted by palliser at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2012


palliser: cairdeas, his reasoning for dismissing the usefulness of letting out nonviolent offenders in reducing overall prison population is that "a small fraction of the prison population is in for a nonviolent drug crime." So let them out, sure, but that's not going to reduce prison populations by enough to make a real difference.

Well, a few things:

First, it's another example to me of how skillfully he constructs things to lead the reader where he wants them to go, because he doesn't say "nonviolent offenders" are a small fraction of the prison population, he specifically says "nonviolent drug offenders" are a small fraction. I think he assumes our brains will just gloss over that caveat. There are thousands of different types of nonviolent offenses, any one of them will be a "fraction" of the total.

He also says nonviolent drug offenders are "a small fraction" rather than giving the actual number, which is around 25% of all inmates. All nonviolent offenders taken together, by the way, come to around 60% of all inmates.

That's a majority, not a small fraction. I guess he thought nobody would bother to look up the real numbers. This is yet another example of how I found the piece to be very skillfully manipulative and misleading.

Second, if he truly does believe drug offenders make up such a small proportion of inmates, and that's not really the problem, then why did he devote all those hundreds of words in the article to the horrors of the war on drugs and the injustice of drug offenders being locked up. Why did he devote all those hundreds of words to the horrors that nonviolent offenders have to endure, locked in with the violent ones.

In other words -- he's saying, in that section we're talking about, that it's not good enough to let non-violent offenders out, we have to let the violent ones out too. Then why did he devote pretty much the entirety of that massive article to why we should let out the non-violent offenders and nary a word to why we should let out the rapists, murderers and pedophiles.

Well, he pretty much reveals why he did that with this telling sentence: "Advocating on behalf of criminals is much easier when they haven’t committed any violent crime." To me, he has whipped up our sympathy and understanding for the people who are locked up for ridiculous and unjust reasons and get us mad about how wrong it is for them to be in prison, and then manipulatively is trying to skew that sympathy in the direction of rapists and pedophiles, hoping our anger will just somehow carry over and we'll get mad that the rapists and pedophiles are in prison too.

All that aside though, when I'm saying he doesn't provide his reasoning, I'm still saying he doesn't provide his reasoning for why total prison abolition is the best or only option. Let's say in bizarro world, the false things he implied are actually true -- that nonviolent offenders are a tiny fraction of inmates, and most of them are violent. Let's just assume that.

He still has not given any kind of reasoning for why that means just letting them all out is the best or only option.
posted by cairdeas at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


He just does his best, using various techniques, to make everyone miss the idea he is actually putting forth.

He does all that talking about non-violent criminals and reveals at the end that his point is emphatically NOT about non-violent criminals, it's about the violent ones.

The idea he is putting forth is that it is a moral imperative that women take on more of a share of being raped, because keeping violent criminals in prison is oppressing them too much, making them too "controlled" and "defiled" by the state.

That women are being selfish and immoral by wanting violent criminals to be locked away, period, no matter what efforts are made towards prison reform.

I am not exaggerating. That is the idea he's puttting forth. Seriously. He's constructed the article so that you have to spend hours untangling all his tangents and misleading statements to get to it, but that's what it is.
posted by cairdeas at 2:33 PM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea he is putting forth is that it is a moral imperative that women take on more of a share of being raped, because keeping violent criminals in prison is oppressing them too much, making them too "controlled" and "defiled" by the state.

I'm not really sure this is a fair reading, considering that the DOJ reports that males are more likely to be victimized by violent crime than females (although interestingly this gap has shrunk considerably in recent years). Note that this is based on survey data, not reported crimes, so it should be relatively free from reporting bias.
posted by dsfan at 3:01 PM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine household surveys will still underreport domestic violence, if only because even the victims tend not to think of those incidents as assault. Also, women are definitely far more likely to be victims of spousal murder, which is what the author seemed to think was not much of a reason to put someone in prison. After all, you can't kill your wife more than once!
posted by palliser at 3:40 PM on February 11, 2012


I think we've gotten a little off-topic here. or. maybe there are a number of threads. To me, the most important one is:

Are we wasting a lot of time (resources, money) on imprisoning people in the USA?

Is Britain (or anyone) doing it better, and for less dollars? If so, why?, and what could we be doing better? The original article's writer style aside, maybe we ought to consider his important points.
posted by pjmoy at 4:11 PM on February 11, 2012


I think we've gotten a little off-topic here... Is Britain (or anyone) doing it better, and for less dollars? If so, why?, and what could we be doing better? The original article's writer style aside, maybe we ought to consider his important points.

? Off-topic? How so? The author did put forth an proposed answer to those three questions in his article. And that answer is exactly what we've been discussing the past few posts.

The author also specifically said multiple times that the US prison system wasn't reformable and didn't need reform. That was his central point. So although a discussion of prison reform would definitely be more useful than the central point of the author, it would not actually be more on topic in this thread.
posted by cairdeas at 4:40 PM on February 11, 2012


That's lulzworthy, in your mind?
posted by delmoi at 10:02 PM on February 10


I thought perhaps they were accidentally saying the opposite of what they meant. Otherwise the post I was responding to didn't make sense to me.

1 in 3 black american males will spend part of their life imprisoned. 1 out of 3.

Only an American or a sociopath could get the words "Prison isn't a moral problem at all" out of their mouths in response to this state of affairs.
posted by lastobelus at 6:57 AM on February 11 [3 favorites +]


I don't think that the existence of prison as a punishment is the reason that so many black males are incarcerated.

Nor do I think that overrepresentation of any group in prison (such as minorities, or males) is necessarily a reason in itself to change the application of laws or punishments. A law should be changed if it is unnecessary or unjust, not because certain people tend to get caught in the net breaking it.
posted by knoyers at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2012


A law should be changed if it is unnecessary or unjust, not because certain people tend to get caught in the net breaking it.

But if there's plenty of evidence that "certain people" are more likely to be targeted by the legal systems charged with applying the law, then ought that not be addressed?

Someone like Steve Jobs can admit with impunity to being a drug user and still be held up as an exemplar of the model creative capitalist, because everyone knows the police aren't going to put a guy like him away (and even if they did, he can afford to make that problem go away). Law that isn't applied consistently isn't justice, it's a social control mechanism.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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