Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”     Barry Goldwater

April 1, 2009

Open Thread Question of the Day: How Can We Fix Our Prisons?

by Stephen Littau

Our prison system, holding nearly 25% of the worlds reported prisoners, may seem like an April fool’s joke but certainly is not a laughing matter. I’m in the early stages of writing a post in response to Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) recent article in Parade entitled: Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.

Sen. Webb is looking for some recommendations on how to reform the prison system so I thought it would be interesting to solicit some ideas from readers and fellow Liberty Papers contributors. The following is the specific questions Sen. Webb wants to answer:

I am now introducing legislation that will create a national commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make specific recommendations about how we can reform the process. This commission will be tasked with giving us clear answers to hard questions, including:

Why are so many Americans currently in prison compared with other countries and our own history?

What is this policy costing our nation, both in tax dollars and in lost opportunities?

How can we reshape our nation’s drug policies?

How can we better diagnose and treat mental illness?

How can we end violence within prisons and increase the quality of prison administrators?

How can we build workable re-entry programs so that our communities can assimilate former offenders and encourage them to become productive citizens?

How can we defend ourselves against the growing scourge of violent, internationally based gang activity?

The more specific your answers, the better. I’ll refrain from posting here as I will answer these questions and more in my upcoming post.

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9 Comments

  1. Why are so many Americans currently in prison compared with other countries and our own history?

    We prosecute people for possessing a plant.

    What is this policy costing our nation, both in tax dollars and in lost opportunities?

    A metric shitton. Incalculable lost opportunities. About $25-30b every year in direct and indirect incarceration costs.

    How can we reshape our nation’s drug policies?

    Legalize all drugs.

    How can we better diagnose and treat mental illness?

    Get the government out of the health care sector.

    How can we end violence within prisons and increase the quality of prison administrators?

    Quit putting non-violent people in there. Get the state out of corrections. Let market-based dispute resolution organizations handle crime and punishment through insurance and protection policies.

    How can we build workable re-entry programs so that our communities can assimilate former offenders and encourage them to become productive citizens?

    This is tough. You fucked up by putting non-violent people in jail to begin with and paid $40k/year to teach them to survive in a violent environment. Let out the ones convicted of victimless crimes and don’t put them on watch lists or subject them to limits on where they can work or buy property. The ones that kill and rape need to be incarcerated anyway.

    How can we defend ourselves against the growing scourge of violent, internationally based gang activity?

    Legalize all drugs. Most of the “international violence” is perpetrated by people trying to win share in the drug market.

    Comment by thomasblair — April 1, 2009 @ 12:16 pm
  2. Focus on RESTITUTION to the victim, not punishment or the criminal (as much as possible force the criminal to make the victim whole). Eliminate victimless laws (if competent adults engage in behaviors that do not violate the rights of others then decriminalize that action).

    Comment by ed42 — April 1, 2009 @ 12:17 pm
  3. I agree with most of the suggestions up top. The focus should be on punishing *actual* harm to others, instead of putting people in prison for possession, distribution, or prosecuting for *potential* harm. If policymakers would want to control distribution and sales, require licenses at distribution points and tax the heck out of it. Of course this is a police power, compatible only with regulation at the state level. Don’t think a strict interpretation of interstate commerce or general welfare apply for the Federal Constitution in this case.

    Comment by Adam — April 1, 2009 @ 2:04 pm
  4. I agree with both of the above. With a focus on restitution and re-entry, how about turning the prisons into power plants–picture treadmills turning nonstop to produce energy. Prisoners that have skills or obtain them while not on the treadmill could be allowed to use their other abilities instead. Victims could be compensated with what the offender can produce minus the cost of housing. Prison violence would decrease as they would all be pretty tired at the end of the day, but if not, give them more time on the treadmill until they are.

    Comment by John — April 1, 2009 @ 2:15 pm
  5. I agree with Most of the Comments. Except Stop putting
    Non Violent offenders in Jail & Prisons place
    them in half way Houses. Stop putting the People
    with Mental Illness in Jails & Prisons, place
    them in a Treatment facility or Hosp

    Comment by Bravewolf — April 1, 2009 @ 6:31 pm
  6. Legalize all drugs, prostitution, adult pornography, gambling, assisted suicide, and all other victimless crimes which are attempts to legislate morality. The more government tries to protect citizens from themselves, the more overfilled our prisons become.

    In a “free country” prisons should be reserved for criminals who had victims other than themselves.

    Comment by Akston — April 1, 2009 @ 6:56 pm
  7. You know, as long as there are plenty of people out there who believe that people ought to be sent to prison to repay their debt to society rather than as punishment for violating individuals’ rights, this problem is not going to go away because these are the very same people who believe that drugs should be illegal because of their effects on society. Unfortunately for us, many of these people are either a part of the politically-powerful religious right or belong to women’s groups who see no problem with imprisoning a bunch of men (that’s basically who gets thrown in prison for drugs).

    Comment by Justin Bowen — April 1, 2009 @ 8:00 pm
  8. Justin,

    I’m afraid you’re right in that assessment. I find it ironic that the most vocal opponents of freedom call it selfish and destructive.

    How much more self-centered can a person get than to project his own values onto everyone else, call that group “society”, and assume that they all must surely value what he values?

    How many atrocities in history were perpetrated by individuals voluntarily interacting even if they departed from some perceived norm, versus people who were convinced their view of ideal should trump the voluntary interactions of others?

    Show me a man who champions the will of “society” and I’ll show you a man seeking to be a tyrant.

    Comment by Akston — April 1, 2009 @ 8:30 pm
  9. [...] a word, the answer is no. In response to the open thread question I posed to readers, several made a very interesting suggestion: [...]

    Pingback by The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Reforming America’s Prison System: The Time Has Come — April 11, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

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