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Following the assassination over the past few days of the second Texas prosecutor in two months - both of which are suspected to have been the work of the nationally powerful prison gang known as the Aryan Brotherhood - a number of ideas to reform America's prison system and reduce crime have come into focus, and are worth discussing now.  Some are obvious, but some you may not have heard before.

1.  End the War on Drugs.

Not only is there no moral right to punish people for what they do to themselves, but no possibility of successful enforcement, as we have learned at all too high a cost in both money and lives lost or shattered over decades of Drug War madness.  Punishing people for helping others seek victimless pleasure is equally futile, and repeatedly doubling down on the Drug War has done nothing but create utterly ruthless, invincible, global Super Cartels with tentacles into every nation and criminal syndicate on Earth.  It has also inflated the prison population in this country to the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world, forcing state and local governments in many places to spend more on police, jails, and prisons than on education, healthcare, and other services.

The result of the evolution of criminal drug trafficking, the militarization of police forces, and the perversion of sentencing laws into cruel, sadistic, authoritarian measures to lock up harmless people en masse has turned communities into war zones, police forces into occupying militaries, and Prison into the 36th most populous state in the US.  It has also turned any number of people who would never have gone into a life of crime into hardened criminals due to the necessities of survival in prison, the lack of legitimate opportunities for released inmates, and the expense and risk involved in maintaining drug habits due to prohibition.

Ending the War on Drugs and all related laws and policies would, in one fell swoop:

  • Reduce the stakes of drug-related criminal justice, radically decreasing incidence of shootouts, hostage situations, witness murders and intimidations, and car chases.
  • Completely eliminate the single overwhelming revenue stream for organized crime, street-level crime, and terrorist organizations, forcing them to compete for much smaller amounts of money with little or no community complicity.
  • Free up law enforcement to pursue violent criminals and high-level property criminals who otherwise are ignored or can't be investigated thoroughly enough under the status quo.
  • Free up prosecutors to set rational priorities and do due diligence in choosing what cases to pursue, as well as judges to issue reasonable sentences for real crimes, and free up budgets to give defendants real representation.  In other words, restore justice to the justice system.
  • Drastically reduce prison populations, associated violence, and the violence and corruption that spills out into the streets from it.

2.  Eliminate for-profit prison industries.

There is no reason whatsoever in a civilized, law-based society to tolerate the existence of a "prison-industrial complex" that profits from societal ills and lobbies to exacerbate them by multiplying the number of imprisonable offenses while turning America's court system into an "inmate supply stream" rather than a public service to protect the citizenry, including the accused and the convicted.  This phenomenon is parasitic and ultimately lethal to society if allowed to continue, since it has fed the criminalization of American life, the empowerment of ruthless criminal gangs, the elimination of basic freedoms, and the militarization of police forces.

We must insist as an absolute rule that no for-profit industry be permitted to exist that depends for its survival and growth on incarcerating a maximum number of people for a maximum amount of time, and that only people with constitutional authority to do so may hold anyone in custody - and that this authority may not be delegated to contractors.  Frankly, this is probably already the case constitutionally, but at the moment corrupt courts would not recognize it.

3.  Decentralized incarceration.

Putting hardened criminals all in the same place was always a stupid idea to begin with - since all that happens is that they synergize their criminal skills and learn from each other how best to evade justice - but with the evolution of violent prison gangs that murder public officials it's a system that can no longer be tolerated at all.  A violent criminal, gangster, or incorrigible recidivist felon should not even be within sight of another inmate.  Frankly, they shouldn't even be within walking distance.  

At no point in their entire incarceration should there be any possibility of their seeing, speaking with, or receiving messages from anyone other than guards, families, and attorneys [or doctors, counselors, or other professionals involved in rehabilitation or their legal cases], nor should any moment of their incarceration fail to be recorded on both audio and video maintained in perpetuity except attorney-client conversations.  This doesn't eliminate the possibility of messages being relayed, but it certainly reduces the "bandwidth" of criminal communications from broadband to 1980s dialup, greatly advantaging the much slower pace of the state.

Every police station should have its own one or two-cell "prison" - with each cell at opposite ends of the building - capable of safely and humanely incarcerating anyone, and at least some of them should be able to handle Supermax lifers.  The additional expense involved in the higher fixed costs of the facilities involved would be more than justified by eliminating prison culture altogether, and somewhat compensated for by the vast reduction in numbers created both by ending the Drug War, eliminating the prison industry, and keeping inmates from being exposed to new criminal opportunities by prison culture.  

4.  Absolute limit on population % of incarcerated people at any given time.

There is no excuse for almost 0.7% of a nation's entire population being in prison at any given time, let alone for that figure to rise to whole number percentages on the part of racial minorities.  Impose an absolute limit on the percentage of the population that can be incarcerated at any one time, and if that limit is passed, a "sentencing austerity" system is imposed where an increasing number and severity of crimes cannot result in prison until the numbers go down again.  If numbers are that high on a sustained basis, obviously imprisonment isn't working, so governments should be forced to look at something else.  What that limit should be is an exercise for experts, but obviously the current prison population is multiple times larger than any sane standard.  

This forces states and the federal government to address what's actually going on rather than just trying to brutalize their way to a better society.  It would also prevent government from trying to keep any lingering prison industry alive by imposing harsher sentences on non-drug crimes to compensate for an ending of the Drug War.  They would be forced to prioritize, and forced to pay attention to things other than jail in order to prevent and address crime.  Sorry, Judge de Sade, you don't get to lock up some kid in the federal pen for ten years for driving across state lines two miles from his house with a stolen candy bar.


Now, these measures would be very politically difficult to implement, but the first step is simply acknowledging that they should be implemented, because the status quo is inexcusable, idiotic, and unsustainable.  We must start saying "No" to the Axis of violent criminal gangs, militarized police, and corrupt corporate industry that have worked together to parasite off the suffering of the American people and turn our nation into a giant prison where no one is safe either from crime or from the people allegedly working to punish it (but actually made to work on its behalf by the aforementioned villains).

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not going to argue with your suggetions, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    want to add, tonight Rachel Maddow said a new "person of interest" has emerged in the shootings in Texas. A former public employee ousted for some kind of corruption. Might not be prison gangs at all.

    Confession time: When I'm not ranting about politics, I write romance novels

    by teresahill on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 08:43:47 PM PDT

  •  I like #3. Saturn's moons sound good. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    #1 will be taken care of (current facilities populated by stoners only--easy management).
    #2 see "Outland"
    #4 Problem solved. Capacity unlimited. With proper seating, destination management becomes sort of fun. See "Con Air".

  •  point 1 should take care of point 4 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Lonely Texan, Chi

    good list.

    It's so sensible I wonder why it's not being implemented now. I bring that up only because if there are roadblocks we should identify them and get around them.

  •  Make enough stuff illegal, and everyone violates (6+ / 0-)

    something sometime. A nation of unconvicted offenders advocating to throw the book at everyone but they and theirs is, really, the most perverse society imagineable.

    And I may not be 100% sure about how we managed to get to that point, but I still have absoluetly no hesitancy in agreeing that reversing this is job one for putting this country on the path to a sane future.

    Short, sweet, concise, brilliant!

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 08:55:36 PM PDT

  •  You know what reduces crime? (10+ / 0-)

    A just economy.

  •  Rehabilitate (5+ / 0-)

    Great diary.  Some thoughts.

    Instead of selling the longer sentences means we're tough on crime trope, we should be pushing shorter sentences with real rehabilitation.  More consellors and vocational training with the goal of returning convicts to society as soon as they pose no threat.  Continuing education and job services should extend beyond release and parole for as long as needed.  Give people hope and success at crime free living.

    Move the department of corrections to be under the department of education, maybe merged with labor.  Make corrections about rehabilitation rather than punishment.

    •  Prisons and parole boards should be operated (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim P, isabelle hayes

      jointly by DOJ, HHS, Education, and Commerce to reflect all the needs of society that go into rehabilitation.

      Going faster miles an hour, with the radio on.

      by Troubadour on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 09:18:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And what about those of us "convicts" who could (4+ / 0-)

      never have reasonably been seen to be any "threat" or "danger" to anyone anyway?

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 09:21:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  All the counseling and vocational training (5+ / 0-)

      in the world will not help much if there are no jobs available. I don't disagree with your ideas, but I don't see them having much of an effect until the unemployment rate for livable wage jobs is back down to under 4%.

      Some kind of WPA program of last resort jobs at some decent wage could fill the bill. If a person can't find a private sector or civil service job, the government hires him or her to reclaim farmland, build trails, dig ditches, write bad poetry, whatever.

      Crime free living requires a legal income sufficient to support oneself. And I don't think it would be a good idea to put former criminals at the front of the line when non-incarcerated people can't find jobs. That would create an incentive to commit some small felony in order to have a job waiting in a year or two.

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 10:55:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It would be interesting to know just how many (4+ / 0-)

        jobs are unavailable in the "free private sector" as a result of the jobs done via prison industries. I think this should be another aspect of reform - no prisoner labor that benefits private corporations. If the states want prisoners to make license plates that is one thing, having private prisons running high tech production facilities staffed by prison labor is quite another.

        Free: The Authoritarians - all about those who follow strong leaders.

        by kbman on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 12:06:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  How about a decent wage for 40 hours of work (6+ / 0-)

    for the lowest paid people among us?

  •  There were judges who were sending juveniles (8+ / 0-)

    to jail, iirc, in Pennsylvania. And they were getting a bounty from the private industry industry for each one they sent.

    Too lazy to look up the links now, but I'm sure this kind of thing goes on more often than we'd want to think.

    As far as ending the War on Drugs: a) big pharma has spent billions (and quite a bit of that on politicians) to develop THC-based medicines and patents. b) Black Ops for our various secret police agencies get part of their hidden funding through the drug trade, and c) the banking system depends in great measure on the illicit flow, which I'm sure also wets bankers' beaks quite thoroughly, d) it imprison blacks mostly, and Latinos next, and poor whites third, so the system is working as intended.

    There's no mystery as to why the War on Drugs* which has clearly failed by any rational criteria, and failed for decades, continues.

    *(except if you are a Banker laundering large amounts of drug money)

    If Republicans said every 3rd person named "Smith" should hang, we'd bargain them to every 7th. Then we'll see apologia written praising this most pragmatic compromise. There's our losing formula.

    by Jim P on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 09:28:24 PM PDT

  •  A brilliant diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Orinoco, Chi

     A lot of people don't realize how bad the system is...

    For instance, there are many prisons in the USA that contract out their inmates to corporations at WAY under the minimum wage and probably under the prevailing wage in China...

    Made in the USA, Baby!!!

    “I used to be disgusted....Now I try to be amused" --Elvis-- My first attempt at a diary..

    by PlinytheWelder on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 10:17:29 PM PDT

    •  Which is, frankly, illegal. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, isabelle hayes, Chi, leeleedee

      Authority is not a person's property, so they can't just hand it over to someone else in exchange for money.  There is no lawful way for an institution with the legal authority to hold prisoners to have someone else do it for them, so that invalidates private prisons, private prison guards, and private prisoner transports.

      And, of course, the illegality of forced prison labor needs no explanation.  Forced labor is a human rights abuse.  Prisoners are wards of the state, and the state has no more legitimate authority to force inmates to work than they could do that to orphans living in state facilities or quadriplegic veterans living in VA hospitals.  Being in charge of a person does not grant the right to prey on them.  Exactly the opposite, in fact.  

      Even voluntary prison labor for private business is illegitimate, since the workers have no ability to negotiate, effectively no recourse against employer abuses, and free workers can't compete, meaning it has some of the same economic problems as actual slavery.

      Going faster miles an hour, with the radio on.

      by Troubadour on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 10:29:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  you need to read the post Civil war Amendments. (0+ / 0-)

        It makes involuntary servitude legal in prison.

        I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

        by samddobermann on Thu Apr 04, 2013 at 12:14:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good start (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, isabelle hayes, kalmoth

    This subject calls for a deep inquiry into our brand of barbarism. The intractability of slavery was demonstrated in Scalia's anxiety to decree the modern-day Reconstruction VRA over with. Perhaps you could review Dante's Inferno to get a sense of the task. And Charles Sumner- you could start with the Grandeur of Nations- to get a handle on what it would take. The problem is not technical or legislative, it is one of  ongoing revolution, spiritual or Socratic in nature. This is what it's like to live in a monarchy, those old philosophers, like Montesquieu, are suddenly relevant again.

    •  Enlightenment thinkers will always be relevant. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes, Musial, kalmoth

      Things like monarchy, feudalism, fascism, bureaucracy, aristocracy, theocracy, plutocracy, and yes, even democracy and liberty...they will always be with us in one form or another, sometimes more prevalent, sometimes less.

      You make an important point calling it barbarism, because that is precisely what it is when "justice" becomes merely an authoritarian machine grinding away along its own gears regardless of the consequences rather than a conscious, intelligent action by responsible citizens acting out of both law and conscience.

      Going faster miles an hour, with the radio on.

      by Troubadour on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 11:00:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd go one step further and suggest that (0+ / 0-)

    profit is itself evidence of crime. Profit is a benefit that has not been earned by the producer of goods and services. In most instances, it accrues to people who have managed to participate in monopolizing the currency, sort of like copy right claims depriving an author of income in favor of the publisher who collects sums over and above what is expended on the actual publication.
    Incarceration for profit is one of the flavors of human husbandry. Other flavors are adult education, elder warehousing, mechanically assisted "living," foster care and, more recently, elementary education.
    Human husbandry is the exploitation of humans by their own kind to their detriment. It is, perhaps a natural evolution for the ex-men, whose depletion of material natural resources has prompted them to target their fellow man as a resource -- one that is not likely to be depleted, as long as women continue to reproduce. Women choosing not to is a real threat. If women opt not to reproduce, it isn't just the fungible troops that will be in short supply. All those people whose manual dexterity the incompetent rely on will be in short supply. Some people need servants because they cannot do anything for themselves.

    Imagine Willard cutting the grass or on his hands and knees pulling weeds.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 04:32:32 AM PDT

  •  May I direct your attention to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the "Suburban Prisons" sketch from Rutland Weekend Television? It addresses #3 and, in a way, #2.
    Featuring a song by [not] Johnny Cash.

    Democracy has a well-known liberal bias.

    by MrCanoehead on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 05:08:27 AM PDT

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