Of course, we’re not as bad as the Gulag…

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

37 Responses

  1. But Jason, we don’t mean for there to be so many rapes and other instances of abuse in our prison system. The evil Soviet Gulag meant to torture and murder people, right? We = good. They = evil.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      But Christopher, the numbers don’t lie.   We are the most criminal society in the history of the world if our incarceration statistics hold true.   We imprison more people now that Stalin did at the height of the gulags.

      But the market, as usual, shall solve our problems:  let’s outsource our prisons beyond our current schemes of for-profit penitentiaries.   Those old gulags are still there out in Siberia, frozen nice and solid, still perfectly serviceable.


      • I imagine the drug cartels could run a solid for-profit prison.Report

        • I imagine the prisoners would be much easier to deal with if we kept them stoned. It’d probably cut down on prisoner-on-prisoner violence as well.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

            But we do keep ’em stoned.   Since we’ve decommissioned many of the old mental institutions (thanks Ronald Reagan!) now those folks are now incarcerated and medicated within an inch of their lives.

            It seems that demented kid who shot Gabrielle Giffords is responding to medication.   I’m not sure how this works, legally, but I think if the prison system can medicate a mentally ill prisoner to a certain point, he can be put on trial and be denied an insanity defense.

            What can we do about crimes committed within prisons?   I don’t have a clue.   In a civil society, we generally add more law enforcement agents to the equation:  below a certain percentage things get out of hand.   I think even a Libertarian would agree with that statement in principle.   But inside the prison, would more guards make much of a difference, considering how many violent offenders are already inside?   Really, I don’t know.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

        “We are the most criminal society in the history of the world if our incarceration statistics hold true.”

        Like I said last time, if you want to compare us to Stalin, then you need to include the people who ended up under the jail.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      How much insouciance does it take before you mean something to happen?  How much joking about it before the fact?  How much total indifference when it’s happening?

      I know you’re joking, but I also know a lot of people will say the very same things, and say them seriously.

      (Some others will probably blame the gays, but I don’t know that there’s any helping them.)


    • Chris in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      I don’t think most people even get as far as that sort of reasoning. Prison reform is almost never discussed by politicians and policy makers because prison is for bad people, and talking about making things easier on them makes it look like you’re not as hard on bad people. What, you’re soft on crime? Not going to vote for you!Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Personally, I think that our prison experiment has proven a failure. Out of all of the things that prison is supposed to do, I think that the only one it succeeds at is “taking the criminals away from civilized society”. It doesn’t rehabilitate, it doesn’t make people penitent, all it does is incarcerate.

    Now, it makes sense to argue that *SOME* people *OUGHT* to be removed from proper society. Sure. I tend to agree. Why in the hell are we putting harmless people in there with them?

    We need to try something else.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      For some people, prison really does make a difference.   I know of a woman, a superb welder for Fluor, works on the Oakland Bay Bridge replacement.  She did some of the toughest welds, joining the piles as they were being driven down.

      She had been a junkie for many years.   Spent a lot of time in and out of prisons, finally got clean.   But she’d learned to weld in prison.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Prison *MIGHT* work for women.

        It doesn’t work for men.

        There. I said it.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

          I mean, I’ve read that there are maximum security prisons for women where the inmates are allowed to keep irons in their cells… so they can iron their clothes.

          Men’s prisons don’t allow them to have plastic handled toothbrushes because they can be sharpened to a point and thus turned into a weapon.Report

    • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

      I agree with Jaybird,

      We incarcerate too many people for too many things and then do not protect them from each other. This is barbaric.

      We need to experiment and try something else.Report

    • North in reply to Jaybird says:

      Radically we need to try something else.

      Moderately we need to, at least, stop making so many things imprisonable offenses.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to North says:

        Might even save us some money, too — but then, it would be a whole lot less rapey to get convicted of a crime. Can’t have that.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to North says:

        Radically we need to try something else.

        Moderately we need to, at least, stop making so many things imprisonable offenses.

        Let’s try both!

        Another moment of culture shock. A few elections ago, we were watching the Toronto news around election time, where they show the insipid montage of shots from polling places for the day. When they showed the Canadian prisoners lining up to vote in the prison, my jaw dropped. It had never even occurred to me…


        • North in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Really? I’ll admit I had a similar moment in reverse when I learned that you can’t vote if you’re in prison in the US. I was like:

          “What do you mean they can’t vote? They’re still citizens.”

          <Friend> Oh no, they can’t be allowed to vote, they’re criminals, think of what/who they’ve vote for.

          <Me> Oh come on, there can’t be enough prisoners in US jails to actually constitute a significant voting bloc.

          <Friend> …


    • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      Personally, I think that our prison experiment has proven a failure.

      This is an awesome sentence JB. It’s PC enough to not overtly offend ‘pro-prison’ groups even as the ‘pro-choice’ wing of the victimless crime community nods along in agreement.


  3. DensityDuck says:

    But it’s still okay for child molesters to be raped in prison, right?

    I mean, child molestation so it’s okay for bad things to happen, right?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Would you rather be raped or flogged?  I’d pick the latter, and I think probably most other people would too.

      This suggests that we would be inflicting less punishment on criminals if we were somehow to eliminate prison rape and replace it with an equal amount of flogging.

      Now consider that criminologists have proposed replacing prison with flogging.  We’re inflicting way, way too much punishment, and probably the worst parts of it are also the ones… that we think are the funniest, when they happen to someone else.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I was in Milwaukee a few months after Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison. The main attitude among people there was, “We took care of him.”
        It seems to be an embedded notion that possible murder is part of the sentence.
        I remember reading years back a write-up in the newspaper about a new county jail, and how “de-humanizing” it was. And I thought, “You idiots!” A person in county jail is going to be there for one year maximum; then you have some poor de-humanized person as your neighbor, co-worker, the person trying to park their car next to you, etc.

        Overall, I think this is part of the redneck equation, that corruption is a part of the system, and we should just accept it. I really think that there is a greater incidence (which is not to say egregiousness) of corruption at the municipal and county levels, and barbaric treatment of prisoners is just one more form of redneck corruption.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        There’s a lot to be said for ‘flogging.’ Instead of prison time (crowed prison, cost to taxpayers) we take the offender to the town square, and, for lesser crimes he gets the appropriate number of lashes determined by the court. My goodness, even the most dimwitted commie-dem can figure out that if I do X then I’m going to get ten wacks? I think it would provide a great incentive not to steal, commit fraud, engage in drunk driving, etc.?Report

  4. Comrade Dread says:

    Well, we could end the drug war, and focus on prevention and treatment. That would get rid of a few percentage points of prisoners.

    We could switch away from mandatory sentencing laws, especially for non-violent crimes where sentencing could be more focused on restitution.

    We could look to other countries that don’t seem to be having this much of a prison rape problem and see what they’re doing to prevent it, be it through more guards, or other avenues, such as focusing on rehabilitation and redemption rather than punishment, or allowing more familial/spousal/SO visits, or through cracking down on gangs.

    I don’t know. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of motivation right now to try to do anything.Report

  5. James K says:


    I don’t even know what to say to that.  I don’t think there is anything to say, except that it has to end.Report

  6. That entire piece is just horrifying and depressing.Report

  7. Jeff says:

    Nothing to add, except that I HATE how the “police procedural” shows will callously threaten a suspect with prison rape.  TPTB know it is a huge problem, but prefer to offer only a giggle and a wink.Report

  8. Rufus F. says:

    Okay, so is the panopticon broken, or is it intentionally looking in the other direction? I’m trying to imagine any other comparable institution with that level of control in which rape was an endemic problem and falling short.Report

  9. Kyle Cupp says:

    This story makes me angry. Not a lot that I read does that.Report