Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Prisoner's Choice

Eugène Delacroix, The Prisoner of Chillon
  
In the past prisoner’s were kept in very poor conditions such as castle dungeons and fed on leftovers. With time humanity has advanced so that conditions of prisons have vastly improved. With that has increased the expense of maintaining these prisons.

Criminal are put in prisons for many reasons, the primary one being that society should be protected from criminals and that imprisonment is a deterrent for crime. There is also the hope that the criminal would reform. However, let us see if these aims are being met. First of all the expense is something that the public bears and because of it public debt rises. The living condition of prisons has improved to the extent that in most countries of the world prisoners get better food for free than a large segment of the population at large. There have been cases of persons who commit petty crimes just so that they can get free lodgings in prison. Recently there was the case of an old man who begged to be kept in prison after his sentence was over because he said he had no other place to go to.
"The financial implications of the legal and justice systems around much of the world designed by the one percent for the one percent i.e. bail and legal costs are such that dame justice has a blindfold and a cell for the for the poor in one hand and a gentle pat for the rich in the other. "   Ashok

On the one hand society is protected when a criminal is imprisoned but on the other hand it suffers because of the economic burden. The public first pays for investigation and public prosecution and next it pays for the prison and living expenses of the prisoner. Few prisons reform the criminal, rather, petty criminals become hardened because of their new found company and return to society as such posing greater dangers.

There is also the perception that prisoners are jailed not primarily because of the things mentioned but for some other reasons, one being revenge and the feeling of satisfaction it gives to others. Another reason is to get persons troublesome to power out of society such as political prisoners. However, these latter reasons are such as must be discouraged in any civilized society.

It is worth questioning if human society can greatly minimize the system of imprisonment if not do away with it completely. Other forms of punishment are possible that can be a deterrent as well as reformative while not causing any expense to the public. For examples rapist and sexual offenders can be rendered impotent and non-erective by medical techniques and they can even be castrated to nullify their sexual drive. Financial offenders can be punished financially and in cases of major offenders like Bernie Madoff they can be stripped of all their assets so as to be rendered paupers and then left free. Some think that Bernie Madoff must be made to suffer but dear friends do you think he would suffer more as a penniless pauper on the street or in comfortable prison lodgings paid for by you and me and fed by cooks paid by a portion of our work at our employer rather than line up at a soup kitchen or rummage through garbage bins for food? Once discovered such financial criminals are no longer a threat to society at large. They are rarely violent, just plain greedy like pigs who feast on shit, why not let them feed on that rather than be fed by designer menus paid for by you and me? And the prisoners don't care for Obama-care. The state provides them free full medical treatment. The state shall provide free surgery from a portion of your taxes.

Minor offenders such as those who physically hurt other people or get into physical fights can be sent away to work camps for prescribed periods where they work for their living and suffer similar companions. Minor financial or other offenders can be dealt with fine or public service sentences. There is absolutely no reason why Marijuana related offenses cannot be treated with just a fine that will enrich the state rather than prison sentences that impoverish it.

There is also a need to review if certain things can be removed from the crime list. One is a drug related offense. Until a few centuries ago possession and trade in narcotics was not a crime and there were no drug crimes except national ones like the opium wars. Ever since drugs have become illegal drug related crime has emerged. Mexico and Columbia can be rid of drug wars overnight if drugs are made legal. Portugal has led the way by doing it already. A portion of the law enforcement expenses is then spent on rehabilitation centers and public education about the dangers of addiction. The public of many countries supports the legalisations of drugs such as cannabis however the authorities remain obstinate. Not all the reasons for this obstinacy are honorable. Politicians and law enforcement agencies derive kickbacks from drug dealers in many places around the world, often indirectly round tripped through legal businesses in which the mafia has invested so that the politician can say that he is an honorable man.
It is a well documented, observed and researched fact that a marijuana smoker is not a threat to anyone in society whereas an alcohol drinker often is because of driving, violence etc. If for a moment one believes that marijuana can harm a person who consumes it, then let him be punished through that, why is society wasting time and money by putting him in prison? It defies all logic and good sense to do so. If some feel it is necessary to imprison Marijuana smokers, they may be doing it for criminal reasons ( for example supporting the illegal drug industry) or some form of insanity and perhaps deserve a prison sentence or treatment in an institution rather than the marijuana smoker.
It really is time for society to reconsider the prison option in majority of cases where such sentences are routinely awarded around the world. if Sweden can do it so can other countries. The money saved can be spent much more honorably on reducing public debt and also in creating shelters for the homeless. This blogger intends to write a separate post on such shelters in the near future.

photo from occupy wall street page on facebook
UPDATE: May 2014: Uruguay has won the war on drugs with love and commonsense not guns while others are busy killing each other over it or stuffing their prisons with offenders. Uruguay is the only country in the world where Cannabis has become legal recently while it has a President that gives away 90 percent of his salary to poor and drives a 1987 car while refusing to live in the Presidential Palace. See a connection there friends? There is a separate recent post on that in this blog http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2014/04/jose-mujica-godly-president-and-song-of.html

UPDATE:  If prisons close down, prison contractors and staff do not have to lose employment. They can be shifted here. Those desperate for a shelter also then need not commit a robbery in our homes to find free shelter. A post on shelters for homeless is here: http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2013/01/designing-shelters-for-homeless_13.html

10 comments:

Vincent said...

I think you've given a very good summary, Ashok. I don't have any major objections to any of it. So why don't these reforms happen? I think you've touched on many of those as well. But I think there are also perfectly honourable political reasons why major changes cannot be made within democracies, related to the structure of those democracies. In the UK, it is possible that a few policemen receive kickbacks from drug-dealers, but I cannot imagine why politicians should. Maybe it's different in Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan, where narcotic drugs are a major crop on which farmers depend.

As for those who commit petty crimes to get back into prison, this is an age-old problem.

As in the case of the Falklands, it's a case of prioritisation - and votes.

ashok said...

You are quite right Vincent. it is always a problem to introduce any radical change in democracies. However, it is good to toss the idea around if one thinks it is a good one because then some gradual change atleast becomes feasible.

Yes the kick backs are not so blatant in UK or USA I think but do not put it beyond the politicians even in these countries to get it in a round about way

e.g. a drug lord giving a kickback to a businessman first who makes a campaign contribution later.

You know even in case of bank bailouts this happens. The banks give loans to corporations who in turn fund political campaigns.

There were even some reorts, perhaps, it was long time ago and I am not very certain or sure of the details, that President Kennedy was quite buddy buddy with some mafia from Chicago who were possibaly into drug trafic as well.

ashok said...

With drugs part the main reason why they are so attractive for crime is because it is illegal. The moment they become legal the prices will crash and crime will move out of it.

John Myste said...

Criminal are put in prisons for many reasons, the primary one being that society should be protected from criminals and that imprisonment is a deterrent for crime.

Although I hate to nitpick, sir, “the primary one [reason]” you cite is actually two primary reasons. In America I think retribution is the primary reason people are put in to prisons long term, sad, but true.

There is also the hope that the criminal would reform.

I don’t think most Americans care about that because they believe the criminal does not deserve reform. We are vengeful, hateful, emotional group. No offense to us intended.

The public first pays for investigation and public prosecution and next it pays for the prison and living expenses of the prisoner.

And interest on the debt that is higher because of this (something you touched on, but I wanted to clarify).

For examples rapist and sexual offenders can be rendered impotent and non-erective by medical techniques and they can even be castrated to nullify their sexual drive.

This sounds barbaric, but I would choose it over incarceration. I am not sure it would work. Many psychologists, if not most, believe that most sex crimes are done to satisfy a morbid need for power, and not for the sexual pleasure only. A castrated criminal may do other things, still sexual in nature, to lash out and discharge his bitterness. It is a good idea worth considering, but I think it may ultimately fail. Additionally, there is the problem that many “sex offenders” are now being exonerated because of DNA testing and other forensic science. They are released from prison. You cannot release someone from castration.

Violent criminals causing death or serious physical impairment may be executed through humane medical procedures that cause no pain and thus be removed from society.

Two problems, first, again in America, the process of execution cost more than the process of life imprisonment. Secondly, you cannot undo this either.

These objections are simply logistical problems with parts of the plan. The plan itself makes a lot of sense.

Until a few centuries ago possession and trade in narcotics was not a crime and there were no drug crimes except national ones like the opium wars.

Drug abuse is a very serious problem world-wide. I am not sure it making it legal would cause a surge. Each nation should at least pilot the idea, and see what happens. I have never used drugs (other than alcohol, that is), but I know that it would feel good and some would take me to a blissful place. If we are not careful, we are all going to end up living in the The Matrix, only there will be no left to keep it running. I would like to pilot the idea, though, perhaps in one American city that is not needed, like Houston.

This was an excellent post. The concept that something needs to be done and can be done is basically ignored. The problem is not something anyone is seriously considering, and so it continues on.

Vincent said...

I think one problem of decriminalising drugs is that it would worry parents and grandparents, and they would not vote for the party that proposed it.

I speak as a parent and grandparent. It would worry me, a little.

ashok said...

John your most excellent and reasoned, beautifully written in satirical style, response brought a smile to my face . It deserves a detailed comment form me having started the discussion, that I shall get to soon after I free myself from some other mundane chores.

ashok said...

"In America I think retribution is the primary reason people are put in to prisons long term, sad, but true. "

Yes I agree this is sad and yes it was two reasons

"A castrated criminal may do other things, still sexual in nature, to lash out and discharge his bitterness. It is a good idea worth considering, but I think it may ultimately fail."

yes I agree that this topic needs more study and research. it seems there are medical methods that can more or less kill the sexual drive part of it through stopping the roduction of hormones that produce them but as I said I do not have full knowledge of this. it need more study.

"Two problems, first, again in America, the process of execution cost more than the process of life imprisonment. Secondly, you cannot undo this either. "

I think with a redisgn of the process it should not cost. In the ultimate analysis just two not expensive injections are required, the first an aanesthetic one and the second a cardiac arrest causing one, As regards undoing I realise mistakes are made in the legal process but the fact that mistakes are made in any human activity should not deter a worthy cause, otherwise nothing could be done. If I was wrongly in the dock I would prefer being put away peacfully to being wrongly incarcerated and then being freed after the initial pain. This arises also from my belkief that the soul survives and moves on to other lives.

"I would like to pilot the idea, though, perhaps in one American city that is not needed, like Houston. "

I love your love of Texas :)

Thanks for your thoughtful response John

ashok said...

Vincent,

This is in response to your comments on the role of votes in democracies and how that rules changes.

However, to my mind things do not move as per votes in present day democracies in places where it matters most because goverments move first for the needs of the political party and only later for the needs of the people. An example is the fat corporate and bank compensations where the people would vote one way but the goverment moves another way. it is really sad that goverments (UK)including Obama have done nothing meanigful on this front inspite of having spoken a lot about it in the aftermath of the banking crisis of 2008.

ashok said...

Recently the loss making UBS chief wanted to get away with millions in bonus, a loot of public money given legal sancity by political parties who derive contributions from the 1% that benifits from the system.


Somewhere in the old testament it was written, either in the proverbs or eccelesiastes " what good is wisdom for it leads to sorrow"

It is good that the common man can not see through the dark workings and mechanisms that run our world. It is because of these the common man suffers economic crisis from time to time and in times of econmic progress he suffers from stress, long and boring commuting and working hours , broken families and a burning desire for retribution (of the type John mentioned) at the wrong door,

yet the books of old also said, " the one's who love the lord shall escape this misery"

and there are many who live in joy and peace in this murky world even as a lotus grows in dirty swamps.

Ashok said...

An example of a meal from a US state prison is as follows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_food):

3-4 ounces of meat
half a cup of vegetables
three-quarters of a cup of a food containing strach
three-quarters of a cup of salad with dressing
1 bread item
1 beverage
1 dessert


Is it something better than most can afford for themselves and their children? For sure it is, how many get to eat meat at every meal and a desert too? However, you can afford it because your taxes paid for it. Sure enough there is cheaper bean protein available but that just makes the prisoners phart and who wants a pharting robber planning his next job in comfort?


This author would like to clarify that he is not against good food for all humans, even those in prisons. In fact many, the majority, trapped in the prison system are better humans than many outside, even though they may have unfortunately committed an error and got caught up with it. However simplicity of diet is a good idea for all and whereas the sort of food that an average citizen consumes is required for prisoners also, luxury, especially at public expense is disgusting. The larger question here however is why so many prisoners in the first place when alternatives are available. If Sweden can do it so can the others because Sweden is not a planet in a galaxy far far way.