Tag Archives: prison

But is justice being served?

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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is an advocacy organization that pushes for criminal sentencing reform. They have had successes:

Twice since 2011, FAMM and its members have successfully campaigned for the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce guideline sentences for drugs—and to make those guideline changes retroactive. In 2011, the Commission voted to make its FSA-conforming amendment retroactive, a policy change that affected 12,000 federal crack-cocaine prisoners. In 2014, after receiving more than 60,000 letters, the Commission voted to make All Drugs Minus Two apply retroactively, allowing more than 40,000 prisoners to petition for resentencing.

I think the very fact that the U.S. Sentencing Commission can even consider retroactively changing sentences implies that the sentences themselves were most likely unjust. Furthermore, this problem seems to be inherent in crimes which have no identifiable victim. Since there is no identifiable victim, there is no basis for which to calculate damages. And since there is no basis to calculate damages, what foundation is there for deciding a sentence?

It is thus absurd to designate punishing victimless criminals under the rubric of “justice.” Really, justice has nothing to do with it; rather, punishment in this case is a tool that the state uses for social engineering purposes. Incarceration is not about giving the offender what is due to him, it is about bending the individual to the will of the state. Once this is generally realized, we can begin the move towards victim justice, rather than this confused notion of criminal justice.

Private Prisons Are Guaranteed Inmates by the State

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When I was studying criminal justice, the concept of the “prison-industrial complex” was brought up in comparison to the military-industrial complex warned about by Dwight Eisenhower. As the military-industrial complex describes the system of a collection of suppliers to the US military, as well as all who financially benefit from the waging of war, the prison-industrial complex are those who financially benefit from the warehousing of people who are convicted of crimes by the state.

This article from StoryLeak describes an effect of the latter. Apparently state and local governments have made contracts with privately run prisons that guarantee a steady supply of inmates, specifying financial penalties for those governments if they fail to supply enough inmates. There is a lot of money to be fleeced from taxpayers in this industry. Indeed, I think this presents an interesting challenge for minarchists, who typically believe that military defense and prison operations are legitimate functions of government: even at its most basic and accepted functions, governments find a way to be wasteful and benefit special interests at the expense of the rest of us. Read the rest of this entry

The Expression of the Total State: Prison

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Let’s talk about prison

I know this video is a bit long, but I think it’s definitely worth pondering. Jeffrey Tucker interviews Daniel D’Amico, who talks about his academic specialization of jails and prison. I find D’Amico to be a very interesting scholar, having personally taken a class from him on the American Prison State through Mises Academy.

Incarceration, though it is out of sight and out of mind, is something that needs to be discussed. Indeed, it seems amazing that it is so seldom talked about considering what it is. Though a defining characteristic of the state is that it claims the right to enforce its will by deadly force, the very next measure under that is lock up. What effects does this have on a person? Tucker talks about his short stint in jail after running a stop sign, saying what really struck him is that no one in that environment cares at all about you: the warden, the guards, and the inmates all look at you as if you’re a burden and they would rather not have you there. D’Amico speaks of the psychological costs of long term solitary confinement, causing people to lose the ability to speak and write, and essentially making them lose their sanity.

Somebody might respond that inmates deserve to be there anyway. But is that necessarily the case? As libertarians we hold that people who produce, sell, and consume drugs harm no one but themselves (and if they do harm someone else there are already laws against that), and therefore it is unjust to use force against them. It is these very people who make up the majority of the prison population.

But even considering the people who have committed very heinous acts, D’Amico questions the default idea that they should be put in prison. Is this really the best response to this type of human action? This presents an interesting question to anarchist theorists, who spend surprisingly little time on it. There are three general parts to the criminal justice system: the police, the courts, and the penal system. In their envisioning of the market anarchist system, theorists have spent a whole lot of ink dealing with questions of enforcement and adjudication, the first two parts. However, comparatively less has been said about what will happen to those who are found to have committed egregious acts.

Scholars such as Bruce Benson and John Hasnas have pointed to the fact that English Common Law most often had penal practices based on restitution. Robert P. Murphy’s ideas of punishment in market anarchy involve private prisons that compete to house and rehabilitate offenders, having them work to pay off their restitution and “rent,” as well as taking the risk of liability in vouching for them once they have been released. (This speaks of another large problem in the American penal system: recidivism. Almost 2/3 of released felons commit crimes and end up back in the big house.)

Prison is an issue that affects all Americans, either directly by being in one, or through being a major part of many states’ budgets. I believe that if not for the fact that people don’t know how much they are paying to warehouse people, the prison-industrial complex as we know it would not exist. Please join me in discussing this topic.