Count Nothingface made a crack at libertarians wanting to abolish prison on Twitter. I happen agree with the libertarians on this one, prison should be abolished. On the other hand, I think it should be replaced with things those same libertarians might not agree with: public whippings, executions, and restitution, depending on the crime. Prison should be abolished for a few reasons: it’s cruel, it’s costly, it’s actively harmful, and the alternatives are more useful.
1) It’s cruel:
Prison is unnecessarily cruel, yet everybody seems to accept it as normal, while thinking its alternative as cruel. Why is locking someone in a hole with the scum of society somehow less cruel than a few moments of pain. If you were given the choice between 20 lashes spread over 5 days or 3 years in prison, which would you choose?
Obviously, the former. Everybody I’ve asked would choose the former. I’m sure if you even gave just criminals the option, the vast majority of them would choose whipping.
If everbody would choose whipping then that then why is whipping considered cruel while prison is not? It makes no logical sense.
(It does make societal sense though. We do it for the same reason we send old people to die in old folks homes and hospitals: decadence. We have become so soft we hate to see pain and death in the open, so rather than accept that, we inflict greater cruelty on criminals [and old folks] by locking them away where we don’t have to see them.)
2) It’s costly:
It costs $20-50k per year to house a criminal in a prison. A bullet costs a buck or less. A bullwhip costs a few hundred dollars. A person to execute the punishment will probably cost under $50/hour. We could save a lot of money by eliminating prison. Restitution pays for itself.
Now, the standard argument is that death row inmates cost a lot to execute, but that is only because of the insane legal process involved in executing someone and holding them in prison until they are executed. If we streamline the process, the cost would not be so insanely high.
3) It’s actively harmful:
Prison is actively harmful in three main ways. First, it separates children from their fathers and destroys families. A man in prison is not raising his children; his kids are being supported the state and single moms. This is not good for children, it’s not good for families, and it’s not good for the state.
Second, it separates a man from his community. Instead of being able to get a job, learn a skill, or otherwise doing something that would help him become a productive member of society, he is forced into prison where he becomes a parasite for years. Then, when he gets free form prison, he has become so used to the prison lifestyle that he can no longer function productively in the real world.
Third, it turns minor criminals into major criminals. Prison takes minor criminals and/or misguided youths, who with a bit of guidance or stern correction could be set right, and forces them into spending months or years interacting with nobody other than other criminals. This turns minor problems into major ones.
4) The alternatives are better:
The immediate objection to eliminating prisons is ‘how do we keep criminals from law-abiding citizens?’ The answer is execute them.
If an individual is so anti-social that society can find no better use for him than to store him in a warehouse to keep him from being around other people, he should be executed. It is of no benefit to society to keep a useless criminal alive in prison for years and I don’t see how keeping someone hopelessly caged for his whole life in conditions worse than we treat zoo animals is less cruel than a quick death after a good meal and an opportunity for repentance to save his immortal soul.
So, for perpetual criminals and the fully evil, execution is the superior alternative to a life of caged parasitism.
For those criminals who commit lesser violent crimes whipping is the preferable alternative (possibly castration for sexual crimes). It is at once less cruel and less destructive, yet also more of a deterrent. While everybody knows abstractly prison is bad, the full scope of imprisonment is somewhat abstract and not all that easy to grok. On the other hand, a whipping is real and visceral, it is easy to picture and the pain of it is easy to imagine. The sight of a public whipping would be a much stronger deterrent than knowing bad guys are locked up somewhere away from here.
As for the petty criminals and property criminals restitution is easily a better alternative. Make criminals pay monetary damages for monetary and petty crimes. In the case where they cannot afford to, garnish wages over time until the debt is paid. If they are unwilling to find productive work, put them into forced labour until their debt is paid.
This is better for a number of reasons: First, it avoids the problem of prison making petty criminals into greater criminals. Second, it keeps a man with his family and his community. Third, it helps, or forces, a man to become a productive member of the community. Through forced labour, he’s forced to contribute to society and forced to learn a useful skill of some sort.
For the above reasons, I think that any wise society would end the wasteful, inhuman, and cruel prison system and institute a humane, human system of execution, public whippings, and restitution.
Abolish prisons now.