This is a truly bizarre article.
The author, Christopher Glazek, makes a lot of good points about the American prison system, in which prisons are run by the inmates. He points out that according to some statistics, the majority of all rapes committed in the US occur in prisions. We have heard elsewhere recently that more black Americans are in prison today than were in slavery in 1860, and that more people are in American prisons than were in the Gulag Archipelago (although, to be fair, that is partly because the latter tended to die).
The solution proposed by Glazek is: to let the prisoners out to commit more crimes. There is no mincing of words; the title of the article is "Raise the Crime Rate". Not for Glazek any wishful-thinking "prison doesn't work" rhetoric, his thesis is clearly that it does work, but the price is too high.
Part of the weirdness is that he seems to regard a reduction in crime partly as a bad thing in itself:
Certain breeds of urban dwellers benefit, too. In gentrifying sections of Brooklyn, for example, steep drops in crime, combined with the virtual depopulation of entire city blocks, has underwritten a real estate boom. In neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, wealthy people with children have reaped the benefits of climbing land values from apartments they never would have bought had it not been for the removal of tens of thousands of locals from adjacent areas.
Er, yes. Reducing crime makes neighbourhoods nicer and encourages people to live in them. That's more or less the point.
What Glazek never addresses is the question of why the US is unable to keep order inside its own prisons. From an international point of view, this is the obvious question. The UK, as he observes, imprisons fewer of its criminals, but here there is no assumption that prisons are run by the inmates. There is a possibility that here we are just misled, but I don't think so. There was for a time one exception to the rule, the Maze prison, where Northern Ireland's terrorists were held, but the management of that prison, with opposing factions kept in separate wings run by their own paramilitary hierarchies, was a major controversy. The terrorists were de facto prisoners of war, though de jure that status was always denied them, and the contrast demonstrates that the situation in the mainland prisons really is different. Compare to this astonishing paper on the Mexican Mafia, which demonstrates that gang prisoners in California have essentially the same status as the paramilitary POWs of the Maze H-Blocks.
There are statistics in the article: the US spends 200bn a year on a system which employs 500,000 correctional officers to supervise 2.3 million prisoners. Is it really not possible to control crime inside the prisons with a ratio of more than one officer to five prisoners?. The abandonment of law and order inside American prisons is a choice, one probably inherited from the country's frontier days, and one which simply cannot be justified. If violent criminals continue to commit — and suffer — violent crime inside prison, the answer is surely not to move them out to prey on the law-abiding, but to actually enforce order in the one place where it ought to be easiest of all to do. Don't, as Glazek recommends, put TV cameras all over the country: put TV cameras all over the prison. (That was a progressive idea in 1791). And finally, if you're going to release prisoners because there are too many, release the ones that don't commit crimes inside.
Labels: crime and freedom