Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Penal... izing the tax payers

The United States has a crap ton of people in prison. The maps on the left are 1950, '70, '90, and 2005. The big dots represent over 2,000 prisoners each. Per capita we have a lot more prisoners that anybody else that I could find (700ish/100k... at least 1.5 mill in prison). So what do I think that means?

-We have a problem with crime
-We have a system that catches people

Sure it'd be nice to reduce crime, but if we haven't figured that trick out yet, I'm ok with those people being in jail. Regardless, cause, cause, effect... prison bills between $40-60 billion depending on your source, and that's just direct cost (for me a worthy pragmatic argument is the inherent opportunity cost).

I'd like to refer to a book that many people have read, but probably few adhere to, "Rich dad, poor dad." One of the first lessons Rich dad teaches the budding protagonists is they should not find ways to create money.

It's always good business to concentrate on reduction of costs, while maintaining an acceptable level of service... that's poor dad thinking, and that's OK as long as we don't stop there. While the cable TV, 250 thread count prisons, aren't the majority, there's really no reason they should exists at all. Extended stay solitary confinement likely does more harm than good... but this doesn't mean prisoners need to know what's on Nick-at-Nite (interesting question... how does inmate cable preferences differ from the common public?). The fact that 67% of prisoners return to prison within 3 years of release doesn't speak to well.

Rich dad would find ways to turn the prisons into money maker's... or at least to guzzle less. More prisoners performing labor (some do)... Let me ask you how many factory workers you see at the gym after a 8-10 hour shift? It should not be hard to provide structured, healthy, and profitable jobs for the incarcerated. Nevada Senator John Ensign had an interesting idea in 2003... his proposal included the prisoners be paid... they pay for their own incarceration, and get a little booty right when they get out. I think we should make the prisoners work for the federal government, and eliminate some of our federal debt. I want to see more chain gangs on local community projects. Something I have learned in Brazil is to not take for granted the overwhelming ability of cheap labor... and prisoners are just that.

I have some other questions about alternative punishments...whatever happened to public humiliation, or intense physical pain (remember the American dude who got caned in the Phillippines for graffiti? Consider clicking that link regardless)... is this a spare the rod issue? When did we start caring more about hurting a criminal's feelings than preventing them from committing a crime again? Use methods that work, not methods that talk nice. I'm not advocating torture... but sometimes punishment has to be degrading for some people to reap the benefits. This is simple psychology, if the stimulus is not intense enough, some beings will not respond, and will not learn. Not only should we consider alternative methods of punishment as part of rehabilitation, we should take a cue from any actress who's gotten away from the killer and "hit them where it counts." Don't send a millionaire to jail for 2 years, he'll make money on interest while he's there... Send him to jail for 40 days for the stigma, and bind him legally to pay a hefty sum to charities, or to community projects.

In the end, I think our penal system has problems of operation, problems of rehabilitation/lack of punishment. There has been some small movements to privatize prisons, and that's an interesting thought... I'm not taking a side, yet.

Wiki: United States prisons
Bureau of Justice Statistics: Report 2005
Per- capita Prisoners: World countries
Proposal by Nevada Senator John Ensign in 2003
United Nations Convention Against Torture: Article 16 is used as an argument against any sort of physical punishment. The UNCAT's wording does not include situation's like Guantanamo... while torture is still wrong, it's interesting that due to the wording the US isn't violating UNCAT.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

jesus brady you should have been a politician. oh, i got it; political engineering. it's so applicable.

9:32 PM  
Blogger charlie said...

Privatization of prisons is idiotic.
I wouldn't trust a house built by conscripts, but I'd let them dig a hole.
Skinner's model of learning is wrong.
I want to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad

5:26 PM  

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