The Prison Guard State

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Trumwill says:

    I am innately uncomfortable with our current incarceration policies… but I am also not certain enough that it hasn’t significantly contributed to drops in crime. A lot of other theories, such as the economy, are not really panning out.

    Regarding the abortion theory, I have read some convincing arguments that despite Roe v Wade the underclass and other demographics that criminals disproportionately come out of have had more rather than fewer children since that decision.

    Logically, the result of Roe v Wade should be that there are fewer “unwanted” children because they can be aborted away, but illegitimacy rates have skyrocketed and children born to risky environments has continued unabated.

    I think it’s The Rugby Paradox at work, though it could be any number of things. Regardless, abortion has not had the effects that people logically think it should have.Report

  2. Trumwill says:

    On the other hand, the stuff about lead seems interesting, though I haven’t looked as much into it.

    The question is… how much of our safety are we willing to risk on the notion that lock-em-up isn’t a substantial cause behind the drop in crime. I don’t want lock-em-up to be the cause because I want safe streets without having to lock so many people up. But because I want it to be true does not mean that I should assume that it is.Report

    • Travis in reply to Trumwill says:

      @Trumwill, given that a huge percentage of people incarcerated are there for drug-related offenses, the first step of decriminalization would be a virtually safety-cost-free move. There might be a small bump in DUI-type offenses, but other than that…Report

      • Trumwill in reply to Travis says:

        @Travis, I am sympathetic to decriminalization of pot and policy experimentation with other drugs. I hope different states experiment with different policies and we’ll see what happens.

        However, I’m not at all convinced that any of it is risk-free.

        Drug-related crime was supposed to go down in Montana when medical marijuana was introduced. It hasn’t necessarily worked out that way. Releasing drug offenders also leaves you releasing a lot of people guilty of more than just drug offenses but they pleaded down to it and/or nothing more could be proven.

        I don’t favor throwing drug users in jail because they’re disproportionately likely to be guilty of other crimes, but it does have its benefits.Report

        • Travis in reply to Trumwill says:

          @Trumwill, but how many of those offenses wouldn’t have been committed if it wasn’t necessary to commit crime to buy drugs?

          Alcohol and tobacco are addictive, psychoactive substances — but there’s no huge crime problem around their purchase and consumption, because they’re available at a reasonable cost through legitimate marketing outlets.Report

          • Trumwill in reply to Travis says:

            @Travis, what you say could very well be true. Part of me is very inclined to believe it, which is why I want to experiment with decriminalization. But it is not necessarily so. Decriminalization would not be “risk-free”.Report

  3. North says:

    Man, where’s Jaybird? He’s gonna have a ball with this.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to North says:

      @North, Maribou got sick this afternoon and I have been providing fluids and other, minor, food prep services.

      My take on this?

      One of the obvious solutions would probably be to allow prisoners some measure of suffrage and, if their state allows citizen petitions to be put on the ballot, prisoner petitions making it to ballot.

      But I’m crazy. I don’t know what realistic and reasonable people would say when they look at that chart.Report

      • North in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, Yay reply works again! Sorry Jay, hope Maribou recovers swiftly.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to North says:

          @North, yeah, she was feverish, she ain’t now.

          Reading the chart again when I am not nannying…

          Well, here’s the problem.

          It makes sense to me that the majority of prison-worthy crimes are done by people who have done prison-worthy crimes before.

          That is to say: The majority of examples of burglaries are done by people who have burgled before. The majority of assaults are done by people who have assaulted before. The majority of traffickers are done by people who have trafficked before. (Notable exception, from what I understand, the majority of murderers have one person they wanted to kill and, having killed them, they’re not inclined to do something like that again… for this reason, murderers make the best trustees in prison (or so I have been told).)

          What this will eventually mean is that when you arrest someone for a prison-worthy crime, they’re someone who does this sort of thing, at worst (at best?), semi-regularly. More likely, this is a second career (or first!).

          Which means that when you throw a guy in prison for Grand Theft Auto, you’re putting a guy in jail who has stolen multiple cars, even if you’ve only got proof for the one for which he was busted and imprisoned.

          What this means is that, yes, when you throw a (guilty!) guy in prison, you are doing more than punishing him for doing X, you’re preventing him from doing X next Monday and the Friday following.

          Putting away one criminal prevents many, many crimes.

          My question has to deal with the nature of most of the folks imprisoned, the standards of evidence to put them behind bars (DNA, for example, if possible), and idly wondering how many of those imprisoned are there for felonies that aren’t even close to prison-worthy.

          I’m guessing that, as time goes on, three-strikes laws will result in a lot more third strikes being a violation of probation with weed or some such bullshit rather than something like “stold a truck”.

          So, from *THAT* perspective, it doesn’t surprise me that crime rates approach record lows at the same time that imprisonment hits record highs.

          If you want my opinion on the panopticon in the first place, well… I have this essay…Report

  4. Some Popes says:

    That chart is horrifying. Millions of people in prison. Whether that’s necessary or unnecessary or somewhere in between, this is a crisis in our society.

    Your invocation of the broken window fallacy misses the mark, though. At present, when a state cuts prison guard jobs, it’s not to hire more nurses or bridge inspectors, nor to cut taxes. Just more people thrown out of work to mollify the austerity peacocks.Report

  5. Rufus F. says:

    I’ve heard people say that the companies that make a fortune building prisons in the US run advertisements in favor of things like three-strikes laws whenever they show up on local ballots. Anyone know if this is true?Report

  6. A.R.Yngve says:

    If prisons are so profitable, then expect THIS dude to turn up in the States any moment now:

  7. North says:

    Oh and my best to the Missus as always. I’ve never had as spectacular weather in Minnesota as I have this June. Brilliant and bright but cool with plenty of rain at night when no one cares if it falls. If it keeps up like this I may have to start commending her prayers to my friends though I suppose technically the credit would accrue to whoever is beyond the great cloud of the unknowing that she prays to. In any case all my best.Report