Notice: This is the official website of the All Empires History Community (Reg. 10 Feb 2002)

  FAQ FAQ  Forum Search   Register Register  Login Login

The US prison system controversy

 Post Reply Post Reply
Author
Decebal View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke
Avatar
Digital Prometheus

Joined: 20-May-2005
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1791
  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The US prison system controversy
    Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 10:37

I was listening to a radio show the other day, where they were discussing various books on current social issues. One of the books they reviewed was "L'Empire du mal? Dictionnaire iconoclaste des Etats-Unis" by Roger Martin ("The Evil Empire? Iconoclastic dictionnary of the United States). Specifically, they were talking about the book's take on the correctional facilities system in the US. I thought it was very interesting, and a must-share for the AE pundits!

According to Martin, the number of inmates in US prisons has increased by 50% over the last decade, and over 600% over the number of inmates in the early 70's. The number of inmates is about 2.2 million, constituting a population 6 times comparatively higher than Canada and 9 times higher than the UK. While this increase in the number of prisoners has indeed been associated with a drop in the crime rate, most of the rise in numbers has actually resulted from the increasingly harsher penaltiesand prison terms that offenders have to serve. Most (75%) are guilty of non-violent crimes such as petty theft, fraud, etc. The great majority of that (60% of the total), are guilty of drug-related crimes. Although black people constitute 14% of the population, they are 50% of the imnates, while Hispanics (13% of the population), are 25% of the inmates. About half of the inmates are illiterate, and 300,000 are mentally deficient. The increase in the number of inmates has also been associated by a shift in the court system whereby attenuating circumstances having to do with the social environment from which an offender comes from, have been considered less and less relevant when determining an offender's term. A parallel development has been the call for harsher penalties in political campaigns and a hardening of the general stance of the population towards the offenders, largely as a result from the political campaigns.

Over the past 20 years, the US has embarked on a massive prison-building program (over 500 new prisons), which has resulted in the correctional facilities system becoming the second largest employer in the country (550,000 in 2004) after GM. Overall, the employees of correctional facilities are poorly-paid and non-unionized. 35% of the prisons are private and the ratio is increasing. Most of these prisons have been built in backward rural areas where the prison is usually the main employer and sometimes the only employer. The inmates are usually part of a labor program, where they get paid a fraction of the minimum wage (20 cents -$3, as opposed to $5.50). The total value of the goods produced by them amounted to over 1.5 billion last year.

As a result of the combined effect of imprisoning a large numkber of offenders for a longer period of time, and of the new jobs created in conjuction with the new prisons (prison employees and construction company employees), the overall unemployment rate has dropped by a staggering 2% in the US. This creates a lot of confidence in the economy resulting in increased investment and consumption, as well as an overall increase in the wages at the lower end of the scale, due to less demand of unqualified labor.

Of course, a system which has offenders spend a much longer time in prison also has the effect of ensuring that these offenders are much less likely to cope well with the outside world when freed. Despite some programs to employ ex-convicts, in general these people are unemployable and more often than not, end up returning to the world of crime and subsequently to prison. Subsequent offences are treated even more harshly, resulting in longer offences. In effect, the system is setup in such a way so that people who commit a crime (and usually it's those coming from a poor environment), will spend a large portion of their life in prison.

Some will argue that this state of affairs has the effect of reducing crimes, improving the economy, and that criminal offenders deserve this treatment, being guilty of a crime in the first place. On the other hand, this can be seen as a somewhat conscious effort to resolve social problems associated with poverty by creating what amounts in effect to labor camps. While offenders are indeed guilty of crimes, the penalties can be seen as unnecessarly harsh, and thereby serving the purpose of removing a poor, unemployed or underemployed person from the economy, forcing that person to work for very low wages, and creating a large number of jobs in the process.

What do you guys think?

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

Back to Top
flyingzone View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 11-Dec-2005
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2630
  Quote flyingzone Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 15:19
Decebal: A similar discussion is going on on the thread "Protecting children against abuse and sexual deviance" initiated by BMC. I know we probably shouldn't have stolen your thunder ...
Back to Top
Decebal View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke
Avatar
Digital Prometheus

Joined: 20-May-2005
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1791
  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 16:10
While there are certain tangents between the two discussions, I think that this is a completely separate discusssion. I suggest to everyone to read my post more carefully, before dismissing it as a duplicate of the abuse topic.
What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

Back to Top
flyingzone View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 11-Dec-2005
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2630
  Quote flyingzone Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 17:08

Some aspects of the discussions on the thread "Protecting children from abuse and sexual deviance" may not be entirely relevant to this topic, but BMC and I eventually started a discussion that is quite relevant. I will just quote what I have said on that thread here (bearing in mind it's a response to a rather specific issue put forward by BMC) and will participate in further discussions.  

Originally posted by flyingzone

It's understandable that the initial reaction of a lot of us (especially those brought up in a culture of violence and revenge) to violent and heinous crimes is to advocate harsher and longer punishments for the offenders. Should we demand a 25-year minimum sentencing to perverts who abuse children? How about 25 years and a half? 25 years and 8 months? 26 years? How about 30? 40? Life? You see, whatever we're asking for, the number of years is just arbitray. We are arbitratily assigning a "punishment value" that matches the "seriousness" of the crime. But who is to say that the rape of a 40-year-old woman should be seen as la ess "serious" crime than the rape of a 14-year-old girl? So what should we do? Lock all rapists up for 25 years? 26 years? 30 years? 40 years? etc. etc. etc.? So my first problem with the proposition that we should impose a "minimum sentence of 25 years" on child abusers relates to the very nature of the idea of "punishment" itself.

The second problem that I have with the proposition is whether the severity of the punishment is effective at all as a deterrent, which is of course a subject of debate for the longest time. The logic of those who make this proposition is that, the harsher the punishment, the more "scared" those who potential child abusers would be, and the less probable they would commit the crime. MAYBE this logic works. But I seriously doubt it. I don't think anyone as sick as a child abuser would actually say to himself (most child abusers are men), "Hmmm ... I am going to get 25 years if I get caught, so I'd better stop raping kids." Child abuse or violence against children, even though by nature is more heinous than other crimes, is itself no different than any other serious crimes when it comes to the mind and psychology of the criminals who commit it. If harsh punishment cannot deter murder or adult rape, it cannot deter violence against children either.

So am I just talking sh*t here? Am I proposing that we should just let go of all child abusers? Of course not!!! Criminals should be punished - and rehabilitated at the same time. What I am saying is that, just raising the severity of punishment, e.g. in the form of raising the imprisonment period, is only a very simplistic solution to the problem. It is very appealing intuitively, I bet, to most people because it is so simple, so straightforward, and so "clean". ("Out of mind, out of sight.") But let me ask you: What after the 25 years of locking up a pedophile in prison which itself is an environment even more sexually deviated than the "normal" one? Of course you could say, "Oh, he will surely get some treatment when he's locked up." First of all, are you sure? Second, if psychological treatment is part of the package, then why 25 years? Shouldn't the treatment period be determined by the psychiatric community (if you have any faith in them at all) rather than by law?

As I have argued earlier, this whole issue is a complex one requiring complex solutions, not a simplistic one as proposed by BMC. The issue of whether there is an epidemic of child abuse now or whether the increased number of child abuse cases is a reflection of society's growing awareness of the problem IS, in my opinion, very relevant to this topic, something that may not be very apparent to those who are fixated on the unidimensionality of it. The fact that there are more cases of child abuse being reported, that the media is paying more attention to it (but hopefully not to the extent of generating mass paranoia), and that parents, social workers, teachers, pediatritians, the police, etc. are paying more attention to signs of abuse, all of them are already signs of "progress", and they are actually part of the solution. First of all, the totality of all this growing awareness may act as a "deterrent" which is as effective as, if not more  than, the harshness of the punishment itself, if one REALLY believes in deterrents. And even if you do not believe in the idea of deterrents, more knowledge and awareness can definitely act as preventive measures or first line of defence against pedophiles.

In sum, my argument is that for a complex problem like that, which has existed ever since the beginning of humankind, any argument for harsher and harsher sentences as the solution to it is oversimplifying the problem, and may ultimately be doing a disservice to society in general ("problem out of sight, hence it is solved"). A complex problem like that requires complex solutions, and long-term imprisonment may not even be the best solution.

 

Originally posted by flyingzone

My so-called "complex" solutions to the "complex" problem? First of all, I never claim that one can find a perfect solution to the problem, as implied in my original post. Child abuse is not a new problem. It is a problem as old as prostitution, murder, rape, theft, etc. What one hopes to do is to find some way to (1) identify and try to eliminate the factors that contribute to it (e.g. social isolation, poverty, cycle of violence, alcoholism, etc.) (2) identify the signs of the problem and deal with it more readily when it occurs (e.g. general awareness and education of the public, something that is already being done, hence the misidentified "epidemic of child abuse"), (3) minimize the harm done to the victims, rehabilitation of the victims, getting rid of the stigmatization attached to the victims ("double victimization"), (4) dealing with the offenders, including (a) appropriate punishment based on factors such as individual history and  impact on the victim, (b) rehabilitation - not just psychatric, but also social - a lot of abuses take place in communities and homes that are isolated (c) post-incarceration monitoring, guidance, and community-based integration.

This is what I meant by a holistic/complex approach. Just focusing on locking people up, implementing ever-harsher sentences, and resorting to extreme measures such as castration (that doesn't guarantee zero recidivism anyway), in my opinion, provides only a bandaid solution to the problem.

Back to Top
Paul View Drop Down
General
General
Avatar
AE Immoderator

Joined: 21-Aug-2004
Location: Hyperborea
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 952
  Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 19:17

More than one critic as pointed out, the more people you put in prison the cheaper the social security, education and healthcare bills. Also it's an answer to not losing jobs to third world countries providng US copmanies a way of producing goods cheaply in the US.

I wonder what would happen if they stuck 60% of the US population in hard labour prisons for life at random. Had 10% working in prison service industries, 20% working in the executive and high skilled industries and 10% owning it all.

Light blue touch paper and stand well back

http://www.maquahuitl.co.uk

http://www.toltecitztli.co.uk
Back to Top
flyingzone View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 11-Dec-2005
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2630
  Quote flyingzone Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 19:35

The following is Genghis's response to my posts on "Protecting Children Against Abuse and Sexual Deviance". I find what he says quite interesting, not that I am entirely convinced, though, especially in regard to his assertion for the death penalty. What do you guys think?

Originally posted by Genghis

What you are saying may work for people who have not already become criminals flyingzone, and I agree that the best way America could reduce crime is by making sure that everyone gets a decent education with a greater emphasis on vocational training that will be more practical for poor people, and by making the inner cities of the USA safe again, hopefully bringing in investment dollars that will provide an honest way to live for people there.

However, I think that people who have already committed most violent and sexual crimes are beyond rehabilitation, or more likely, beyond any economically sensible rehabilitation.  The legal system should ask itself this question with regards to punishment, "are the possible contributions of this individual when successfully rehabilitated greater than the cost of rehabilitation?"  If the answer is no, they should be executed, if the answer is yes they should be given all the help they need.

All countries of the world I think need a two tiered prison system, one for violent and sexual criminals who will probably never be rehabilitated efficiently and one for people who honestly just made a stupid decision or felt they had no other choice.  I would support hard labor in the former category, and vocational training and gradual reentry into society for the latter. 

I think the argument over harshness vs. leniency is a false dichotomy as harshness is warranted for some and leniency for others.

Back to Top
Tobodai View Drop Down
Tsar
Tsar
Avatar
Retired AE Moderator

Joined: 03-Aug-2004
Location: Antarctica
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 4310
  Quote Tobodai Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Jan-2006 at 23:06
The overwhelming majority of prisoners in the US are drug users.  We tend to have very puritanical views about what people do to themselves which causes prioson crowding which in turn causes the prisons to be run badly.  Honestly you could cut the murder rate, the incarceration rate, and the taxes to support them if you legalized most drugs.
"the people are nothing but a great beast...
I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value."
-Alexander Hamilton
Back to Top
Decebal View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke
Avatar
Digital Prometheus

Joined: 20-May-2005
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1791
  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jan-2006 at 09:57

I agree with Tobodai on the drug users, but we should not forget that drug users do often resort to other crimes to sustain their habit.

As for Genghis's comment, how do we make the difference between the prisoners "who will probably never be rehabilitated efficiently" and those who will? Some cases are obvious, like serial killers, but what about someone who has killed someone else in a botched robbery? Most people who commit violent crimes feel that they made a stupid decision or had no other choice.

Honestly, I was looking more for comments like Paul's, dealing with the implications on society and the economy as a whole.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

Back to Top
flyingzone View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 11-Dec-2005
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2630
  Quote flyingzone Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jan-2006 at 17:05

You're right to highlight how "lucrative" the "prison business" can be, and I wonder if that's indeed one of the reasons why the American public is so much behind "tough justice".  As it was being rightly pointed out, a lot of those "mega prisons" being built in the U.S. are located in poor communities where there are limited economic opportunities. Instead of protesting against the building of those prisons in the backyard of their communities, majors of these small towns actually vie with one another for trying to attract the construction of "mega prisons" in the community as these prisons, not unlike Walmarts, will automatically become the community's biggest employer, providing jobs for members of the community and eventually even reviving dying communities.

When the impact of prisons starts resembling that of Walmarts, one should really start questioning WHO decides HOW to punish criminals and WHY. Has the prison system in the United States become not just the product of an ideological fight over how to treat criminals but also an appendage to the "Walmartization" of American society?

Back to Top
Genghis View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 02-Aug-2004
Location: United States
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2656
  Quote Genghis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jan-2006 at 17:18

Originally posted by Decebal

As for Genghis's comment, how do we make the difference between the prisoners "who will probably never be rehabilitated efficiently" and those who will? Some cases are obvious, like serial killers, but what about someone who has killed someone else in a botched robbery? Most people who commit violent crimes feel that they made a stupid decision or had no other choice.

If a consensus can be reached that this person could reasonably be made into someone who could support themselves financially and maintain a steady job and place to live.

Again, I think killing anyone means they should get the death penalty, killing someone for any reason other than self-defense or accident shows that they do not accept the idea of individual rights and inviolability that this society is founded on and do not wish to conduct themselves as a rational being in such a society.  It is necessary for a society to eliminate such individuals and it is just as we are merely treating them how they treat others.

Member of IAEA
Back to Top
Genghis View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 02-Aug-2004
Location: United States
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2656
  Quote Genghis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jan-2006 at 17:22
Prisons are hardly profitable for a state to build, in all American state governments spend about $30 billion on prisons, that's not even including the federal government.  The increasing in prison building has been done mainly for political and not economic reasons as it is clearly not in a government's best interest to build prisons with no end.
Member of IAEA
Back to Top
Decebal View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke
Avatar
Digital Prometheus

Joined: 20-May-2005
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1791
  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jan-2006 at 08:39

Originally posted by Genghis

Prisons are hardly profitable for a state to build, in all American state governments spend about $30 billion on prisons, that's not even including the federal government.  The increasing in prison building has been done mainly for political and not economic reasons as it is clearly not in a government's best interest to build prisons with no end.

Why not: after all that $30 billion is not burnt up in big pyres or anything. That $30 billion dollars is spent paying prison employees and companies that do the maintenance, companies that provide building materials, food, etc. In other words, all that money is injected back in the American economy. In fact, a good chunk of it comes right back to the government in the form of income tax on the employees salaries! Overall, it is very similar to forms of deficit spending, which normally have the effect of boosting the economy.

In the meantime, a large part of thew undesirables of the society is removed, and prisons get to make some money on their own. Plus, the overall effect is good for the economy as explained in my introductory post above.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

Back to Top
Cezar View Drop Down
Chieftain
Chieftain
Avatar

Joined: 09-Nov-2005
Location: Romania
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1211
  Quote Cezar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jan-2006 at 08:51

Originally posted by Decebal

Plus, the overall effect is good for the economy as explained in my introductory post above.

Does US economy needs the good effects of an enlarged prison system?

What will happen if the crime rate starts to drop significantly? The employees from the then closed prisons will have no jobs! What will they do for living? What about the sites where there will be no more prisons?

Does that mean that "high crime rate+tough punishment=>more prisons=>overall good effect for the economy", which is "high crime rate might have an overall good effect for the economy"?!

Back to Top
Decebal View Drop Down
Arch Duke
Arch Duke
Avatar
Digital Prometheus

Joined: 20-May-2005
Location: Canada
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 1791
  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jan-2006 at 10:58

Despite appearances, the US economy is not necessarily very productive. From the premier manufacturing centre in the world in the 1950's, the US economy has transformed into a services economy, where little is produced and wealth is mostly created by the recirculation of money and speculation. Seen in this light, the prison system creates a large number of services jobs (the prison employees), and a moderate but growing number of cheap manufacturing jobs (the prison inmates -- not all of them work). At the rates that they are paid, prison inmates are competitive with Chinese workers! Also, since these inmates and wardens are removed from the numbers of unemployed, lowering the unemployment rate, this creates a sense of security and confidence in the US economy, which leads to increased consumption and speculation, thus contributing to the process of wealth accumulation. So while the US economy doesn't necessarily absolutely need this extra boost, it certainly welcomes it.

The crime rate has dropped significantly in the last decades, but it is still very high. The current approach in the US is: let's just build prisons! If the crime rate drops, it means that this approach is working, if it doesn't drop, then we need more prisons. I don't think that a large crop in the crime rate is a very big concern for the US prison system, since the social system ensures that there will always be people who are very poor, which in turn means that the crime rate will always be up beyond a certain level. Besides, if the crime rate drops too much, the solution would probably be to increase the sentences even further, thus ensuring that even if less criminals go to prison, they stay there longer, thus maintaining the average number of prisoners.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.- Mohandas Gandhi

Back to Top
Genghis View Drop Down
Caliph
Caliph
Avatar

Joined: 02-Aug-2004
Location: United States
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 2656
  Quote Genghis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jan-2006 at 18:20
Originally posted by Decebal

Despite appearances, the US economy is not necessarily very productive. From the premier manufacturing centre in the world in the 1950's, the US economy has transformed into a services economy, where little is produced and wealth is mostly created by the recirculation of money and speculation.

That's true of most Western economies, manufacturing is the industry of yesterday, and the US manufacturing index has actually been increasing, it's just that it doesn't employ as many people or make up such a big sector of the economy. 

Member of IAEA
Back to Top
docyabut View Drop Down
Colonel
Colonel
Avatar

Joined: 11-Jan-2006
Location: United States
Online Status: Offline
Posts: 527
  Quote docyabut Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jan-2006 at 22:55

decebal,  I think the higher rate of imates is from the crack down on crime and truth in sentencing. there are more Hispanics from the drug trade, however there are more whites then blacks in prisions because black in the minority and there is more of the minority. I did read a while back that the states were going to sell  some of the prisons to foreign base investers.

 Well they do say in the future that half of the country will be guarding the other half

Back to Top
 Post Reply Post Reply

Forum Jump Forum Permissions View Drop Down

Bulletin Board Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 9.56a [Free Express Edition]
Copyright ©2001-2009 Web Wiz

This page was generated in 0.141 seconds.