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I spent 29 years in solitary confinement (2010) (theguardian.com)
399 points by Tomte on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 250 comments

Honestly, I find the US prison system absolutely horrifying in all respects. As satisfying as it may be for victims to feel the person that did something to them is 'gone' they will eventually be let out, and when they do I want them to be ready to integrate with society.

Recidivism rates in the US show it is objectively not working, with state prisons leaving inmates to re-offend 76% of the time. [1] In Norway, much derided for their lavish prisons, it's 20%. [2]

Throwing people away and treating them like animals is an abject failure, compounded by the mandatory fill rates in private prison contracts. [3] It's time to revisit the whole system, top down, and make it less about punishment and more about making sure it doesn't happen again. And it should be done with data.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-zoukis/report-docu...

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-...

[3] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2015/jul/31/report-find...

I am Norwegian, so I thought I'd add a few points, which I think greatly influence the difference.

1) Prison guard education is just a few weeks in the US to my knowledge. In Norway it is a 3 year college education, where you learn about mental illness, why people become criminals, how to rehabilitate people etc. The prison guard job in Norway, is by American standards more like a social worker. Guards spend a lot of time doing activities with inmates. They are not simply there hit misbehaving inmates.

2) The criminal justice system is largely under professional control. We don't elect sheriffs, judges etc like in the US. So there is less opportunity for populist "though on crime" politics to win through. Policies are mainly driven by professionals in the field.

3) Norwegian culture isn't as hung up on good and evil as American culture. I guess that is partly because religion has little importance in Norway. Christianity is quite focused on the idea of good and evil. Norse mythology was never like that. There was no evil devil. The world was divided into order and chaos not good and evil. The world "evil" almost never surface in any discussion. It isn't just the justice system, but Norwegians themselves aren't very interested in revenge. E.g. I've never heard a single survivor from the Utøya massacre express a desire for revenge.

I don't know why it is like that, but perhaps a reason is that Viking culture was very revenge and honor based. But this mentality was destroying society so authorities worked hard for hundreds of years to change this mentality.

>Christianity is quite focused on the idea of good and evil. Norse mythology was never like that. Norse mythology was never like that. There was no evil devil. The world was divided into order and chaos not good and evil.

What? Why do people say stuff like this? The Norse myths were from a millennium ago, no one has believed in them for almost a thousand years. Maybe Norway is largely atheistic now but for the majority of its recent history it was a Lutheran nation and before that the nation had a Catholic tradition dating back to 900 A.D.

Even today Christianity is Norway`s biggest religion, enjoys regular church attendance of a quarter of its population, and has half of the population declaring they believe in a Christian, not Norse, conception of God.

Clearly Christianity has some influence on Norwegian thinking.

It's also bad understanding of Christian theology.

> Christianity is quite focused on the idea of good and evil.

No, it's mostly focused on the contrast between being a follower of Christ or not. To that end, the character of God and Jesus are elaborated on at length. So subjects like "good" and "evil" come up as a part of that. Yes, Christ is described as being intrinsically good, but the end goal isn't to:

* do good things

* be a good person

* avoid evil things

* punish bad people

...that's not to say all those things are irrelevant, but they're certainly based on trusting Christ and His teachings. To be fair, the usual cast of Flanders clones (televangelists, Westboro Baptist) get this all really wrong, but just because they're wrong doesn't mean we should get it wrong, too.

It really doesn't matter what the "theology" is, or what academically people may understand it to be, it's how it manifests.

The argument was that the manifestation follows from the theology. I'm arguing that if the premises are true (culture follows from theology; culture and laws reflect that), then the originating philosophy (centered around good vs. evil) is something other than Christian theology.

True enough, while St. Augustine abandoned Manichaeism for Christianity, we've been busy reinventing it ever since.

> To be fair, the usual cast of Flanders clones (televangelists, Westboro Baptist) get this all really wrong, but just because they're wrong doesn't mean we should get it wrong, too.

If I had written your comment, this would have been the first line, not the last.

Obviously the GP was boiling down a more complex moral model into something simple enough for a social media comment. Whether (s)he knew enough about Christianity to know the difference between these two dichotomies is still unknown.

It's not trying to be a description of the theology, but of the practice.

In that respect it's quite accurate.

Being a good person and doing god things is absolutely important in Christianity. Jesus talked a lot about the need to do good: to give to the poor, feed the hungry, welcome the outcast and the stranger, etc.

During the course of history, numerous people have changed this into punishing bad people (for to varying degrees and widely varying definitions of "bad"), and that is I think one of the big ways where some branches of Christianity have gone astray. We are supposed to forgive, not to punish as harshly as possible and then some.

The Norse myths were from a millennium ago, no one has believed in them for almost a thousand years.

I can't quite see why Norse mythology wouldn't have had a direct impact on Norwegian culture that continues today. I don't know much about Norway but here in the UK we have laws that were passed 500 years ago that are still in use and that were strongly influenced by the church when they were enacted. You don't have to believe in something directly for it to influence your culture.

That's the common law system at work there. The Norwegian system by contrast is a civil law system.

Not many Norwegians are believers in Norse myth, I think parent was referring to the fact that today's Norway is just less religious in general.

Yesterday's Norway is less relevant.

> The world was divided into order and chaos not good and evil.

What an interesting point.

If you are at all interested in this topic, I cannot recommend this lecture series highly enough. I found it absolutely mind-blowing and a stunning revelation. Just give the first episode a shot.


Don't sit with your first revelation, though. Jordan Peterson is a great lecturer but he leverages that to promote a particular worldview of his own. There's a reason for the Buddhist saying 'if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.'

Please note that this is a metaphor for continually reworking your own ideas, not an exhortation to kill anyone who displays Buddha nature.

Fully aware of that and I fully agree. I am not putting him up as some sort of cult figure - he definitely has an agenda, and pushes it masterfully.

That said it is probably the best argued agenda I have ever heard. As a full-blown atheist I had never heard such a good defence - explanation, really - of religion, and it's no exaggeration to say the fellow has radically changed my thinking on the matter.

I think it is OK to not agree with someone one hundred percent but still urge any intelligent person to listen to what they have to say, if it has merit.

He's also a transphobic asshole who thinks the existence of "transgender ideology" is a crime against humanity comparable to Stalinism.

I don't know about the "crime against humanity" but it's pretty hard to disagree with him on that topic. Most opponents fall back to crude insults, as you have. I suspect that a majority of reasonable people would agree that new genders do not spring into existence simply because you imagine them, and that it is completely obvious that all humans are either male or female. Labelling this simple acknowledgement of reality "transphobia" is very dishonest.

>and that it is completely obvious that all humans are either male or female

Hello? Intersex people? This is patently false under even the simplest analysis.

Makes me wonder how much we miss out on in the rest of the world because of the language barrier.

Order and chaos are just abstractions. They moment you get down to root cause analysis- There is generally some definition of good and evil you have to settle to understand why things like order and chaos exist.

If you are interested in a series of fantasy novels with a similar order/chaos mythology, I recommend the Saga of Recluce.


incredibly common theme in many pre-Christian myth systems. the good/evil dualism in Christianity is the real aberration, despite its prominence.

one of the more credible hypotheses I've encountered about this phenomenon is that early Christianity adopted many of the positions of Gnostic Manichaeism [0] in order to absorb rival cults.

0- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism

Norbert Wiener (of cybernetics fame) made a distinction between Manichaean devils and Augustinian devils-- essentially between evil as a force opposed to good vs evil as merely a lack of goodness.

Essentially the distinction is between mischief and error.

Edit: see e.g. http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/12/najafi2.php

Christianity is far from alone in its belief in good and evil. The idea that there's a battle between good and evil goes back to Zoroastrianism, which predates Christianity by hundreds of years. The other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, also have conceptions of good and evil, though they might not be viewed as being involved in a battle.

From a modern viewpoint, I fail to comprehend how Order/Chaos is not merely a special case of Good/Evil.

Biological life/intelligence, and the Earth it inhabits, is Order, an unusual low-entropy arrangement of matter; whereas the ultimate Chaos is the cosmological Heat Death.

One does not have to assume that order is good, and chaos is evil.

Within a universe of absolute order, there can be no change, and no life can emerge. Within a universe of absolute chaos, there can be no structure, and no life can emerge. Neither is good, or evil, since those are human cultural constructs, and not fundamental physical laws or universal constants. Even life itself isn't necessarily good or evil, any more than a star or dust cloud is good or evil, it's just one of the many possible states that matter and energy can take as the universe inevitably exhausts itself.

While there is some overlap of Good/Evil and Order/Chaos it's pretty easy to show how "Order" can be "Evil".

Totalitarian regimes have that name because they demand total control and react strongly to any disorder. They are generally regarded as towards the "Evil" end of the Good/Evil spectrum.

In reality the OP is right - they are different things.

Perhaps it's the psychological effect that's salient--the honor/shame spectrum, rather than the good-explanation/bad-explanation spectrum.

A funny consequence is that Order vs. Chaos is almost entirely dependent on the scale you consider.

> Prison guard education is just a few weeks in the US to my knowledge

First off, this varies by state. Second, a few weeks might be an exaggeration for most states. In California at least the academy is 12 weeks long and that comes after application screening, written & physical exams, background/psych checks, and interviews.

Far from a 3 year college degree though huh.

> Christianity is quite focused on the idea of good and evil. Norse mythology was never like that.

It's interesting you say that. My only exposure to sagas was from reading Beowulf in school, which is a canonical example for the theme of "good vs. evil".

First of all, Beowulf - at least the written records we have of the poem - is decidedly Christian. It was supposedly written by a literate monk several centuries after Norway had been christianised.

It also isn't necessarily about good vs evil but indeed about order vs. chaos. Grendel's misdeed is not that he attacks and slaughters good and righteous men ,it is that while doing so he violates the sacred law of hospitality by attacking the king's great hall. In doing so Grendel flouts the 'natural' order and therefore can be seen as an embodiment of chaos rather than pure evil.

> I don't know why it is like that, but perhaps a reason is that Viking culture was very revenge and honor based. But this mentality was destroying society so authorities worked hard for hundreds of years to change this mentality.

Or maybe it really sprung out of the Christian influence that came after the Viking culture, with teachings like: "Love your enemies" [Matthew 5:44 - https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A44&...]?

If that was true, we would expect the American Bible Belt to have some of the cushiest prisons in the developed world.

yet the norwegian prison system also has its problems. especially with regards to its 'hotel prisons' being antisocial and isolating compared to other kinds of prisons. this article is on solitary confinement. norwegians have something to learn here as well.

You're absolutely right. Looking for a solution here, the central problem with the US prison system seems to be the incentive structure.

Private prisons are paid based on how many inmates they have. Prisons are therefore incentivized to keep people as long as possible, and ensure that if a convict is ever released, that person commits another crime quickly and winds up back in prison.

Instead, what if the state paid prisons a one-time fee for accepting convicts (the amount would vary depending on the type of crime committed), and then penalized the prisons heavily for any recidivism after release?

Prisons would be incentivized to rehabilitate and free the prisoner as quickly as possible (since every additional day in prison costs them money) while minimizing the chance of that prisoner committing another crime when released. You'd see prisons offer education opportunities, vocational training, valuable job programs, relocation to other areas, ongoing therapy, and living conditions befitting a human being to reduce recidivism.

I think you're being a little naive here. If you could wave a magic wand and make it so private prisons got a one-time fee for accepting convicts then I don't think they would invest more in preventing recidivism.

What would likely happen is that private prisons would spend even less on each inmate, doing the accounting to determine how much they have to cut from what they already spend to account for the amount of their fees if a prisoner reoffends. The already ridiculous cost of the prison phone system would skyrocket. Fees assessed to visitors would be increased or added. The cost of items in the commissary would go up. The private prisons would bump fees associated with being released from prison. Private prisons would also take on more forced labor contracts to cover the difference and pay the inmates even less for their time.

Further, you'll see a spike in prosecutions for in-prison crimes, causing a convict to be convicted on a new charge and more money being sent to the private prison to cover the sentencing on the new charge. So you're going to make the indefinite detention problem even worse - before, inmates got to leave. Now they may never get to leave.

In short, this is likely only a viable solution if you can force private prison owners to act morally.

Private prisons need to be regulated so heavily that they'll effectively cease to be private, or not exist at all IMO.

You seem to have missed the part when he writes about high penalization of recidivism.

Penalties would only be levied after an inmate actually got out of prison, and there is ample time for the prison to use the inmate for slave labor to more than offset whatever penalties you set.

Also expect for the corrections officers unions and police and sheriffs groups to start lobbying for mandatory life sentences because if there's one way to prevent recidivism it's to never actually release the prisoner.

Offending in prison to cause an additional sentence is arguably re-offending and can be treated as such.

I suspect you want to reward prisons for success rather than penalise for failure to re-habilitate. However frankly I also suspect there are actual experts in the field who should design the structure. The issue is that there is no political incentive in the States to do so.

Fewer than 10% of prisoners are held in private prisons, so how are private prisons the 'central problem' with the US prison system?

You misunderstood my point. Both government-run and privately owned prisons are paid (or funded) based on how many inmates they have in custody.

I'm suggesting that private prisons could be solution to the problem if we change their incentive structure.

I've always thought an easy solution would be to pay private prisons based on recidivism. e.g. The government gives twenty percent of all future tax income from the inmate to the prison company - until the inmate is incarcerated again.

The government gains an incentive not to jail people unnecessarily (loss of revenue). Prisons get an incentive to rehabilitate and educate.

Instead, what if the state paid prisons a one-time fee for accepting convicts (the amount would vary depending on the type of crime committed), and then penalized the prisons heavily for any recidivism after release?

So you are proposing paying private prisons up front and then punishing them potentially ten to twenty years later. That doesn't sound workable politically nor does it sound like a good incentive structure.

I don't have the statistics here but it would be interesting to see what percentage of prisoners were serving 5+ years, maybe the ratio of prisoners serving shorter sentences would make this kind of solution more plausible.

Got it, your point seemed only mention private prisons so I was confused.

Yes, it would be interesting to see if market forces could be used to improve outcomes. It does seem that we politically prefer punishment to rehabilitation though, and the incentives are aligned accordingly...

Overall, I agree with you. Mass incarceration is largely about money.

Also, prisoners count towards the population of where the prison is located at census time. It allows mostly white, rural locations to increase their minority representation at census time, that's the kind of thing that's taken into consideration when government assistance is being handed out.

Additionally, this can help when apportioning congressional districts.

Hundreds or thousands of residents who can't vote are a great reward for congresspersons who can bring new prisons to their districts.

Are you familiar with the phrase 'thin end of the wedge'? The private prisons are to many people an unacceptable moral ill that treats incarceration as a source of profit, and whose continued existence provides cover for other institutional abuses.

Private prisons and the incentive for profit is a concern. What is more of a concern, and what leads to much more incarceration is the ambition of prosecutors to rack up convictions, and the embarrassment that is caused if someone discovers a conviction overturned. That's inventive to keep people in prison and don't bother asking if maybe you've got the wrong guy (that's the defense's problem). Also, in many municipalities, the public defenders are very lightly funded, to the degree where one defender works 100 cases at at time. It is in no way a fair trial in any resemblance to what the constitution envisioned.

That's the corruption, that's the stink in the system.

Private prisons are a minuscule percentage of all incarcerated Americans.

18% of federal inmates. 75% of immigration inmates. Miniscule?

Federal prisoners are about 10% of all inmates. So yes, I would call 1.8% of federal inmates in private prisons miniscule.

Private prisons have serious issues, but public ones have issues as well; often they are underfunded, which allowed the private company world to get involved to offer a service for cheaper costs.

I would suggest the solution is properly around the question of the willingness of the US taxpayer to adequately fund the government services.

US taxpayer here. I'm happy to fund prisoner rehabilitation, but I can't fund that without also funding an out of control military and a war on drugs. So, as a whole, I try to avoid taxes wherever I legally can.

Well, I can confidently say that your activities are executing a tragedy of the commons. Sorry.

And public prisons still have tons of private interests involved in their running (contractors, etc.). So no prison is truly public.

> Instead, what if the state paid prisons a one-time fee for accepting convicts

I might to too cynical but I'm guessing that more prisoners would mysteriously die.

I also disagree with their idea.

I think we should just change the purpose of prison to one and only one thing: Reform. Leave justice out of it, and the rest will follow

I don't think that is cynical at all. Such an incentive structure + the general public's lack of interest in the human rights of prisoners, would guarantee that outcome.

Then could we make a small change to the incentive structure such that this becomes a non-issue?

For instance, could the government pay out the fee over 10 or 20 years (perhaps paying it in full on release), and stop future payments if the prisoner dies while in custody?

You'll just end up playing whack-a-mole, only the moles getting whacked will be real people being treated unjustly. This is why I'm a deontologist. The pursuit of maximal utility is a fine thing, but people tend to vastly overestimate their powers of foresight and where that overestimation causes human suffering it's better avoided altogether. We already have comparative examples of systems that seem to work vastly better than our without being so radically different as to be beyond analysis, so I don't see why you're so desperate to preserve the possibility of a profit opportunity here.

why not let prisoners rate the prison, and withhold payments for poor reviews?

In many countries voters would vote in governments that promised to achieve 1 star prison ratings from prisoners.

While prisoners would be unlikely to rate their prison highly, perhaps reformed prisoners are slightly more likely to do so?

the challenge is that literally nobody is incentivized to make changes to this system.

the situation is really bad for politicians. A politican voting to reform a clearly broken prison system faces tons of risks to their career.

Even one wrong vote for improving the prison system will get you labeled as "soft on crime," a dangerous liability for Democrats and nearly a death sentence for Republicans.

Every change you make will inevitably produce a litany of stories about criminal X who was given "too little" punishment. The media will pick these highly emotional narratives up and the blame will be laid at your feet.

You can gain great political capital by making prisions more harsh (who doesn't like seeing a guilty man get punished?) but expose yourself to a ton of downside risk for trying to go the other way.

Nothing about this situation changes until societal perspectives change or politicians don't have to face downside risk for trying reform.

The politicians know that the media can take one criminal act and magnify it to the most important incident of the decade.

The most prominent example of this was the Polly Klaas murder in California in the early 90s. This one criminal act was magnified to the level of a major terrorist attack and kicked off three strikes and a major prison building and imprisonment boom that lasted two decades. It also led to a wave of "stranger danger" paranoia that ended the era when kids could go outside all by themselves and maybe even ride their bikes around the neighborhood.

Frankly, I blame the media for the whole prison thing. They don't look at statistics and instead blow everything totally out of proportion and make everybody paranoid. Usually there is a paper of record like the NYT or LA times that throws the pitch with some hugely blown out of proportion story and then it gets repeated by the rest of the media and then the politicians hit the pitched story with some ridiculously overreaching and draconian laws. For example there was a recent "Bitcoin kills children" story about kids dying from drugs they bought on the Internet with Bitcoin and voila there's an anti-bitcoin bill pulled out of the desk drawer and put on the agenda by the end of the week.

The media are responding to their own incentives, you might as well pass the blame again onto the readers/watchers. It's a structural problem, no one group is to blame. I'd say one major factor is the US seems to be mostly devoid of a shame/duty based culture. People need to be driven to act within generalizable moral codes across the whole society. The idea that if the market supports it and it is within the law then it is beyond criticism is in my opinion not sustainable.

The newspaper business has been losing a lot of money lately. They are just turning into toys for people who want to set the national agenda. Their value as propaganda and PR outlets vastly outweighs their value as subscription collecting or advertising venues. Advertisers will overpay for ads to get a good PR story anyway and with the enormous Web of interlocking ownership these days it's pretty easy to hide the connections.

Yeah but this isn't a new problem, I remember the whole Polly Klaas thing well, and if you look into history it's abundantly clear that this sort of sensationalism has long been a fixture of media. I was visiting the Museum of Oakland not too long ago and was struck by a letter written in the 19th century from a new arrival observing that 'the canard [a french term for a bullshit news article] is a fixture in American journalism...'

I'm not ascribing all responsibility to the media, though - it's one factor among many. I somewhat agree with the poster above about the US not having the same sort of shame/duty culture that prevails in the EU, and suggest that to some extent this derives from the coincidence of different philosophical and social cultural traditions in the US.

> A politican voting to reform a clearly broken prison system faces tons of risks to their career.

Can you say more about this? It sounds like you think that's normal in your community, to think that way. That's not how I hear the people around me talking about prison. I think most of us would support a candidate who talked about rehabilitation.

I worry that by trotting out this old meme as if it were an permanent fixture of our political system that you are actually strengthening it.

Part of the problem is that even thought a lot of people generally agree that we are too harsh on criminals, they don't stick to that viewpoint when the rubber meets the road during situations they care about.

People who are liberal on sentencing get angry if short sentences are handed down in rape or financial crime cases.

There's an appropriate amount of punishment. It's too much for a joint and too little for the people who broke the economy.

This is not a contradiction or indication of hypocrisy.

If it's still about punishment, it's still coming from the wrong place, imo. Furthermore, everyone will have different opinions on which crimes are more heinous than others.

Your last paragraph made me smile at the idea of having prisons filled with bankers instead of drug dealers. Do your point is certainly valid.


In my experience, the divide is similar to the War on Drugs. Most young people understand that it was a poor concept, initiated by racists, from the start. Many old people are still tethered to the propaganda of the past, so there are politicians that can just continue that line of thinking. As long as the current generation is in power (Boomers), we won't see much change for the better.

Obv not all Boomers are this way - to be clear, just way too many.

Most of the people I know aren't swayed by the "tough on crime" narrative. Certainly not me. But then again, I live in a techno-liberal-intellectual bubble. I believe this "punish those who do wrong" mentality (which is understandable on the face of it) is definitely built into the conservative wing of American politics.

Public opinion is swayed at a very superficial level. Emotional stories about convicts going free or people getting killed are always going to have a more substantial impact. Especially compared to mundane stores on successful prison reform -- 10% shorter prison sentences? 5% higher rehab rate? This guy who murdered people has a stable construction job now? Ignore the ideology, I think the optics of prison reform give us this unequal incentive structure.

The only thing you gotta look at to confirm this is how elected judges rule when election time comes up. They get a lot tougher on crime.

Willie Horton was used in this way to have an incredible negative impact on the Dukakis campaign in 1998. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton

This is why we have the Fourth Estate. Politicians won't vote to reform our prison system until that system's flaws and abuses and inefficiencies are made into a big public issue. We need more reporters and more columnists publishing more stories about this topic.

This is a civil rights issue, and it should be written about as such.

The fourth estate is owned by a few rich men.

The solution is to push through the correct solution by playing the exact same game. Politicians interested in reform are for the most part far too quiet. Every time there is a violent crime committed by an ex-convict they need to use that politically to absolutely slam the criminal justice system until something is done. "Tough on the crime system" is just as good as "Tough on crime" if you're loud and obnoxious enough whenever a camera is put in your face.

Oklahoma just passed a ballet referendum to scale back punishments for drug related and petty crimes. The state legislature has basically overruled a clear majority of the vote at the behest of the public unions who are deeply invested in maintaining the jobs of their members and damn the cost in ruined lives.

What is wrong with being "soft on crime"?

being though on crime clearly does not work

The problem is that the general population is very removed from the prison system and inmates in general so they don't see the long-term effects. So when someone is 'locked up' for a long time they view that as redemption for their or someone else's suffering. So being 'soft on crime' would be viewed as taking away those victims vindication. (I'm not saying I agree with this, but I have just noticed through general conversation that people want criminals locked up for a long time. It is very short sighted and vengeful if you ask me.)

The problem isn't so much that the general population is so far removed, it's that the victims are so closely connected.

Why's an outsider gonna stand up for a rapist or a murderer when they've got their own problems and the victims will never forget nor will they stand down. You can't get upset at the victims for that, it's very natural.

I have empathy for some prisoners and a family member was according to him unfairly convicted (he ended up dying in prison), but I've also had family members murdered and sexually assaulted. As far as I'm concerned the people who did those things took innocence and ruined lives it's hard to feel too sorry for those actors when their lives are ruined, too.

That might be a little vindictive, but you can never give victims back their peace nor their normal lives and normal people don't commit heinous crimes.

Yes, they do.

A moment of too much passion, a stupid firstandlast time drug trip, money troubles and "normal people"-addictions- yes, perfectly normal people commit perfectly normal crimes. All the time. Some of them even have company.

Normal crime is just not reported, because nobody wants to hear about how the neighbourhood they moved too- is not so nice after all.

"tough on crime" is an election campaign strategy more than anything else.

> Recidivism rates in the US show it is objectively not working, with state prisons leaving inmates to re-offend 76% of the time.

The problem is that you're assuming that low recidivism rates are an actual goal of the US system as it stands. Look at actions, outcomes and actual effects of policies, not at the claims written by PR departments.

It's like voter ID laws in many states - the claim is that they're to prevent fraudulent voting, but they're very poor at addressing the kinds of voting fraud that actually occur. Further, if there's such a big problem with in person voting fraud does that mean that elections staff and prosecutors are completely incompetent since they're apparently unable to find and prosecute enough cases to be even a statistical ripple?

Add that to the long list of things that needed an overhaul in the US. Education, healthcare, minimum wage, the war on drugs, gun control. All things with that contribute to the enormous prison population in the US that are in dire need of an overhaul. But it will probably never happen because of widespread corruption and anti-intellectualism.

You should add hubris to your list of 'why it won't happen'. America is very proud and very rarely in my life have I seen a proud person admit to wrong, much less change their behavior.

US slavery was ended. Women got the vote. Segregation was ended. Gay marriage arrived. Eventually and painfully in many cases, but things do change.

I got some faith too. While the US has a very strong conservative base who supports backwards policies. Liberals are quite strong as well. I think the main issue is that liberalism in the US until Bernie Sanders, seemed to care little about economic equality, which lays at the heart of almost all other social problems.

They cared once upon a time. The watershed may have been with the civil rights movement. At that time, liberalism may have shifted focus from the economically disadvantaged to the structurally disadvantaged - disadvantaged by race, and then by gender, then by sexual orientation, then by not being sexually binary.

In doing so, though, those who were economically disadvantaged felt that the liberals - at least as represented by the Democrats - didn't care about them and their problems. This was a major factor in Trump's election.

> ...those who were economically disadvantaged felt that the liberals - at least as represented by the Democrats - didn't care about them and their problems

And if we're honest, they have good points. We shouldn't stop at "I'm sorry you feel that way" if we want to take care of people better.

>Recidivism rates in the US show it is objectively not working, with state prisons leaving inmates to re-offend 76% of the time. [1] In Norway, much derided for their lavish prisons, it's 20%. [2]

You can spin this and say that American criminals need to be locked up because they just cause more crime in general.

Some see that 76% figure and conclude prison makes them worse.

Others see it and think, well these are the bad apples, keep them locked up.

I'll give you this is a correlation-causation situation. That said, I see little reason to believe that intrinsic to being American is that 1% of the population should be in prison and of them 75% will have another go at it, when both these numbers dwarf the rest of the developed world.

America has some features that most developed counties don't, like a racial underclass and larger percentage of lower income families. There is also just something wrong with cultures in North & South America. We have really high murder rates in general.

America is sort of unique in that we have very strong rule of law but also have relatively high crime.

Also those recidivism rates you cited are apples and oranges. The US rate includes rearrest and the Norway is re-imprisonment.

This https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4472929/table/p... attempt at apples to apples suggets the US is 36% compared to Norway's 20%. That's a big difference but other western nations are higher than evne ours. Canada, France, Netherlands, Germany, etc. all have similar recidivism rates.

The Scandinavian countries just have very little trouble makers it seems.

Well you see, all the Scandinavian troublemakers got onto boats and went a conquering. Eventually they started settling instead of conquering. So all the pansies stayed at home and bred more pansies and that's why modern Scandinavian countries have few troublemakers. As an example, the area around Manchester England was settled by the Scandinavian troublemakers and many of their descendants immigrated to the Americas (those who didn't became Football hooligans). Therefore the American troublemakers are actually a result of the Scandinavians shipping off all of their troublemakers. So it's all the Scandinavians fault.

> mandatory fill rates in private prison contracts

One day people will look back at this and go "they did WHAT?"

The age of savagery.

That day has come and gone. What will we do about it?

Something's rotten when you have for-profit prisons: https://www.aclu.org/banking-bondage-private-prisons-and-mas....

It isn't the for profit prisons doing things like rolling back Oklahoma's ballet referendum to ease up on crime or keeping California from even considering it. It's public unions lobbying to keep their jobs.

Punishment of criminals does nothing to help the victims. The justice system should be about:

1. restitution (where possible)

2. removal of criminals from society so they cannot continue to harm others

3. re-integration of such people back into society when they are no longer a threat

As a counter to your opening point - it certainly helped me. It made me feel safer and I had a sense of justice. Not saying it's the same for everyone or that it's necessarily a good thing but the punishment of the person committing the act helped me to move on.

>> As satisfying as it may be for victims

There are other reasons to reform the prison system too, but we as a people really need to work on this one. I know a few people who have been wronged in a big way. One of them (perhaps the most wronged - lost a child to a repeat DUI offender) publicly forgave the offender and didn't even show up to see him be sentenced. They're the only ones that seem to have been able to move on in any meaningful way. The others talk about nothing but what happened to them and were seriously depressed for a long time, even when they were long past the direct consequences of what happened. We all need to be willing to let things go a little more - for everyone's good.

> It's time to revisit the whole system, top down, and make it less about punishment and more about making sure it doesn't happen again. And it should be done with data.

I think the current system is actually less about punishment and more about oppression of certain social classes, namely non-whites and lower-class whites. It is a means of controlling social undesirables.

Prisons (especially private ones) should be getting a huge incentive for prisoners that do not come back like 3-5 years delayed grant or something.

This might have resolved a lot of issues with the current system.

Where is this North Korea? This isn't about crime. He was a political prisoner.

I did 45 days in solitary within the context of a longer bid. It was hell. Given the effects it has had on my mind and life, I cannot imagine what 29 years will do. It changes the way you behave so subtly, it's even interesting to me now. My friends think it's hilarious how casually I talk to myself. I live a pretty isolated life; I feel more comfortable that way.

Where I was, there was no outside fenced area for the hour mandated rec time. It was a 6'Lx3'Wx6'H fenced dog cage. At least there was a large open window to the outside to look at from the other side of the room.

You're also mandated an occasional hour at the "Law Library", which was really just a single computer with LexisNexis and Microsoft Office in an otherwise empty 4'x6' room. That VB class I had taken really came in handy.

I learned to make some reasonable dice out of toilet paper. Too. Much. Yahtzee.

In the case of the man in the article, his case was overturned. Hopefully, he won't have a criminal record. Getting a job today with a criminal record is incredibly difficult. That's the biggest reason why recidivism is high [x]. It's great that there's a push to "ban the box" (that is, to not ask about criminal history in job applications), but it hasn't made it to all the states. Furthermore, many companies blanketly don't hire felons[x] regardless of the context of the crimes and/or rehabilitation of the individual. Background checks aren't a fair process in their review. Good-bye any real life.

[x] I'm sure somebody is going to argue that the bigger deal is a lack of quality mental health or addiction services provided to inmates and the dearth of such programs prior to conviction, and they'd be right too.

The prison system is a crazy, privatized torture system designed to keep the poor incarcerated to increase profits for all the contract work related to running the prison system.

Rikers is a great example of a clearly flawed jail system, with inmates getting stuck for years without trial and sometimes killing themselves after losing hope.

Having recently gone through the judicial system as a white male, I can't image being a black man going through the same thing. I was able to buy my freedom, buy excuses, buy a lawyer to get me out of everything. When an oppressed people who already starts out behind falls into the same trap, there's little left for them to do.

Interesting read: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/nyregion/rikers-island-pr...

You said you can't imagine being a black man going through the judicial system, and then pointed at your wealth as the source of your "win," rather than your race.

Race and wealth are typically intertwined in the form of varying levels of opportunity.

Sentences are grouped together in paragraphs because of their contextual relationship. Evaluating them as independent statements is a scope error.

I interpreted the word "buy" more in the sense of social capital.

A note: Herman Wallace was released on October 1, 2013 because of advanced liver cancer. The state reindicted him on October 3, but he died the next day a free man. Albert Woodfox was released in February 2016. The Angola 3 were held in solitary confinement for more than 100 years combined, with Woodfox's 43 years of solitary being the longest of any American prisoner.

Anything beyond a few weeks or a month in solitary confinement should be illegal and punishable by law the same as torture.

And with no loopholes for joining many smaller stays to a long big stay.

Even a week is too long, the effects on the brain can be measured by EEG within a few days, specifically a state of stupor and delirium. The psychological effects are dangerous and permanent.

How would you deal with an inmate that murders or rapes another inmate?

Design the prisons so that folks have private showers and room to begin with. Make sure the environment doesn't invite such behavior. Treat the prisoners like humans.

If it still happens, one can design a segregation unit that isn't as inhumane. One can lose a bit of freedom or gain some by not doing such things. Actual freedoms, like being able to move to a lesser security place. And so on.

Protecting inmates from a troublesome inmate can be accomplished without putting that inmate in a small, windowless room with no distractions by themselves for 24 hours a day.

But after you've tried environmental design, incentives, threats, guards, and surveillance, then can it be accomplished without the small, windowless room? I'd guess not at a reasonable cost.

In the first 14 years of Norway's Highest Security Department (SHS), their version of solitary confinement, they only had to put 11 prisoners there! [0]

The Wikipedia descriptions of Anders Breivik's confinement describe SHS [1]

According to a recent Business Insider video [2]:

- "With few exceptions, judges can only sentence criminals to a maximum of 21 years" which is less then these three men did in solitary!

- "In Norway, only 20% of prisoners return to jail. Compared to the US where 76.6% of prisoners are re-arrested within five years."

Which is even more impressive when you learn that as of August of 2014 Norway's incarceration rate was 75 per 100,000 people, in contrast to 707 per 100,000 in the U.S. [3]

So we Americans incarcerate almost 10 times as many people as Norway with a recidivism rate more than 3.8 times as high as Norway - clearly our focus on "reasonable cost" is justifiable!</sarcasm>

[0]: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&pr...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Behring_Breivik#Prison_...

[2]: http://www.businessinsider.com/inside-norways-luxurious-maxi...

[3]: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-...

--- edited to separate bullet points

Why would a small windowless room ever be necessary? How would an unarmed person harm someone from inside a normal prison cell?

You should look at photos. Most prisons don't have single cells, they have large rooms with bunks, or they have shared cells with 2 or more people in each one.

They should make cells that are tiny and fit one person - but have lots of opening and permission to talk to anyone around them.

That way there is physical isolation, but not mental isolation.

>They should make cells that are tiny and fit one person - but have lots of opening and permission to talk to anyone around them.

Actually there's no need for the cells to be tiny -- even if they are meant for just one person.

That's not entirely true. If the cell was large people would attempt to get into them on purpose to get a private room.

The cell has to be small enough that no one would prefer it over general.

Additionally if the cell was larger then the number of neighbors each prisoner could interact with is reduced. But the goal is to give them the opportunity to interact with as many people as possible.

> If the cell was large people would attempt to get into them on purpose to get a private room.

I think that's a societal problem, not a prison design problem.

> The cell has to be small enough that no one would prefer it over general.

Why? Wouldn't it be sufficient discouragement just with the removal of your basic rights to go where you like and do what you want?

With non-solitary confinement.

They can't kill anybody if they're in a normal cell by themselves next to the other cells -- and with stuff like tv, radio, books, internet, etc still available.

If you're implying what I think you are, that's still not justification for torturing the aforementioned person.

Agreed. That's a good reason to keep people physically away from that person, but not a good reason to not allow basic socialization via remote. Even something as simple as IRC chat or video calling would do wonders.

Solitary confinement is not an effective method of societal reintegration. I'm not sure why it's implemented at all.

43 years. I wonder if he has been asked whether he would prefer death.

Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal . . .

If you see an animal pacing back and forth in a cage, it is generally considered neurotic behaviour and a sign that the cage/enclosure is too small. My point being that it probably did make him slightly crazy and that solitary confinement is psychological torture.

It doesn't make you slightly crazy, people hallucinate in there and they don't come back out the same.

Maybe beside the point, but captivity is not the same as solitary and that is an important distinction.

I really shouldn't be reading stuff like this. It makes me so angry. It is odd that so many conservative Americans think racism isn't a thing. Blacks are dismissed as violent thugs, who are the fault of their own problems. But who had acted peaceful and well adjusted if they were subject to as much oppression, prejudice and brutality as the blacks of the US?

People are products of their environments just like animals. A mistreated animal is also bad behaved and violent.

> Blacks are dismissed as violent thugs, who are the fault of their own problems.

Black men are dismissed... as are most men, TBH.

The incidence of incarceration goes: black men, white men, black women, white women.

Also, rich tends to beat poor, even considering race. e.g. O.J. Simpson.


Men tend to get 63% larger sentences than women. And that difference is larger than the difference between races.

Do men commit more crimes than women?

If only there was a study which explained this... or maybe an "internet search engine" where you could find references.

I'll summarize for the lazy: taking everything else into account, men get 63% longer sentences for the same crime than women do.

If you look at crimes: http://law.jrank.org/pages/1250/Gender-Crime-Differences-bet...

About 80% are committed by men.

But 93% of inmates are men: https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_gende...

There are any number of explanations for this. The most honest and rational explanations don't involve making men "bad" and women "good".

For some more background, Frontline did an episode on solitary confinement:


And if you think solitary confinement is a nightmare, how about putting 2 people in a solitary confinement cell?

"Imagine living in a cell that's smaller than a parking space — with a homicidal roommate."


I don't even know how to start. The US present themselves as paragons of freedom, and then they blatantly violate every kind of basic human right.

How to start? Go back a couple of centuries. Americans reconciling the American mythology with the actions of the American people/government is one of our unspoken national pastimes going back at least to Manifest Destiny in the 19th century.

But on that note I think "every kind of basic human right" is a bit extreme. We have arguably the strongest free speech protections in the world, people are free to move around as they see fit, we're a pretty great place to start a business as we're a massive single market that speaks the same language with relatively lax regulations and low corruption, our higher education is second to none, and most recently we just allowed gay marriage.

Granted some things need a serious overhaul, but while we get a lot wrong we also get a lot right.

And frankly you'll be hard-pressed to find a government that doesn't try to abuse its people when it's convenient. That just a function of power-hungry people typically being assholes. The difference is the US is the world superpower and we wave the flag a lot, not to mention we're just a massive, diverse country. So our hypocrisy is orders of magnitude greater just by virtue of scale, and then on top of that we're held to a higher standard by everybody else.

If you took the government of, say Norway (or some other government that you feel best respects human rights), gave them the size and diversity of the US, and then scaled them up to World Superpower status and gave them some cultural tweaks to actually be able to maintain that status, I think you'd see just as much hypocrisy.

They also point fingers and lip service democracy globally, while having their bases all around the globe, meddling with sovereign countries abroad, helping topple legitimate governments, and funding / being cozy with all kinds of scum, from Suharto and the Shah, to Pinochet and the saudis (not to mention arming and befriending half of today's militant islamists, including the celebrated in the 80s Taliban).

But that was always their deal: the power plus the hypocrisy and the holier than thou attitude that one affords from being top dog with no one to answer to.

(Of course talking about those in power - the normal people are great, just uninformed about most of those things. Then again, if you live in a huge country with no borders with anybody apart from Canada and Mexico, and with no domestic impact in your life of anything that happens outside (except oil prices), why would anybody care about geography and world affairs?).

The Taliban isn't really the Mujaheddin that America funded in the 80's. After the Taliban took over most of Afghanistan, many former Mujaheddin joined the government, but it's leaders were distinctly not Mujaheddin.

In fact, the CIA contacts from the 80's were reactivated after 9/11 because, for the most part, they were in charge of the Northern Alliance forces that were battling the taliban in the civil war.

I encountered this argument all the time when I came back to Sweden after living in the US for 15 years.

Would you rather have Putin or China run the show?

I'd rather we didn't have any imperialist world power.

And, besides, neither Putin nor China are that. Whether due to being less power, or from a long history of being non interventional and isolationist, at most, they are concerned with their own national interests, in their own backyard (South China Sea, Ukraine, etc). That is, like any other country.

I don't care what they do within their borders and with their neighbour's that they have disputes with -- that's for them to sort out.

But when a country pushes their army bases in my country, controls local politics, or even goes to fund and arm a dictatorship in my own country from half a world away in the name of "their national interests" (as if they are entitled to have any say on how things are run in a sovereign country half a world away), that I don't like.

I also don't care for world cops, especially if they are trigger happy, and hypocritically push their own interests as some holy crusade.

But that wasn't always the deal. The US up until 1900 was not the top dog.

Yeah, the US has a lot of flaws that need to be reformed, but that doesn't make it any different than any more country in history, it makes it exactly like them.

It's not an American problem, it's a human problem. When we understand that and stop pointing we'll all be better off.

I strongly disagree. The US is the most powerful country EVER in human history. It has the ability to invade and influence any country on the planet. No country in the past really had that ability. When Great Britain rules much of the world, they were no superpower like the US today. There were countless countries in Europe which could all challenge Britain militarily. Back then there was many great powers. Today there is only ONE superpower and that is the US.

What is unique about the US historically is that they have always claimed to be spreading freedom while frequently doing the exact opposite. Of course it is really just a new twist to the old western excuse for invading: we are civilizing your, or: we are bringing christianity to the poor masses.

Since the US is the main power today and it is a democracy, it is VERY important to protest the US and make Americans aware of the role the US plays world politics. Today very few Americans know about the countless abuses, power grabs, and human rights abuses the US has engaged in the last 100 years. Instead all around US schools American school children are served up propaganda about the US being the best, freest and most human country ever in existence.

How can America ever change if it keeps brainwashing its population like this?

At least the Germans owned up to their atrocities.

Your point about great Britian isn't completely correct, no power could have stood against the empire at its peak. France could have given it a go perhaps, and did around 1800 and where beaten (Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo!).

The differences you talk about now are, in my opinion, down to advanced weaponry. Where before it was about manpower (and England's vast empire made procurement of such very easy) and sailing (another thing England was pretty damn good at), today it's more about who has the biggest and most advanced guns, bombs and delivery technology. America outspends, America wins.

That being said, I'm reminded of a rather apt poem I read somewhere about the British invasion of Afghanistan in the 1800's, basically saying how despite many pounds of expensive training given to English soldiers, they where shot and killed by a Afghanistan pistol in the mountains that only cost a shilling (If anyone has a reference for that I would be very grateful, I cannot find it anywhere)

http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_arith.htm "ten rupee jezail" :) It's a very fine poem.

Thank you very much, this is awesome of you to sign up just to help me out.

I'm very grateful!

Wait, didn't the US (not that the US existed yet) with the help of the French stand up to Great Britain at its peak?

It seems that way, but Britain was not all in on that war. The 1770s and 1780s was definitely not a peak time for Britain. The government was having financial problems and military spending was very low. The peak for Britain was later on in the 19th century.

I think Britain could have won that war if they had really wanted to, given enough time and resources, but there was a great reluctance to spend the resources to win it, money in particular.

There was lack of will on the part of the British government combined with a low point in British military funding. The British government (Parliament, the King was a figurehead by this time) was simply unwilling to convert the country to a war footing.

The political leaders kept hoping they could win the war with a low level of military funding and save money, which was in short supply. So the war effort was underfunded and undermanned. In the end, the Whig party (who had been against the war) came to power and negotiated an end to it. Wars are expensive, and the Whigs didn't think this one was worth the expenditure.

Compare that sad performance to the Napoleonic Wars 20 years later. Britain was on full war footing and spending huge quantities of money (going deep into debt in the process) on their military. They were cranking out large numbers of ships and training large armies.

When the War of 1812 broke out, the British were uninterested in fighting it. They were busy with Napoleon at the time, and the American war was a sideshow with few resources devoted to it compared to what was being devoted to Europe. Even then, their vastly improved military and lavish spending resulted in a much better performance than the Revolutionary War.

In the end, once the Americans were tired of fighting, a peace was negotiated. The British were uninterested in keeping that war going any longer than necessary. It was costing them money and they had better fish to fry.

I love reading about the War of 1812. I think it is easily the most avoidable of all U.S. wars.

The U.S. declared war on Great Britain as negotiations to roll back impressment and trade restrictions were finally progressing. Then, after some impressive U.S. victories repelling British invasions (following some impressive British victories), none of the original grievances were addressed in the treaty.

"Peak British Empire" was in the early 20th century - when it covered about 25% of the area of the planet and 25% of the world population.

"with the help of the French" is an understatement. It was better described as a proxy war between Britain and France.

The war was almost certainly unwinnable without French loans, arms, and naval support, but the bulk of the fighting was done by the Continentals.

Wouldn't that be the definition of a proxy war? However, even that claim is suspect. The Continental Navy was a joke and had zero effect on the war. The French fought a global naval campaign with the world's largest navy. They also supplied the vast majority of gunpowder, cannons, and muskets used in the initial years of the war, and landed several sizable armies. At any point in the conflict the loss of French aid would have meant instant defeat for the colonists. The French or French allies engaged in more or less continuous warfare for decades both before and after the American Revolutionary War.

It's most accurate to say that the American Revolution was a notable but not decisive campaign in the Second Hundred Years War. Americans blow their participation in the conflict wildly out of proportion -- patriotic textbook revision has produced an epic creation mythology. Panamanian schools seem similarly to omit the role of the US in the creation of that country. It's not just that history is written by the winners, it's that it's continually rewritten by the winners.

At no point did you contradict any of my points. What is your goal?

Your comprehension and civility are both wanting, it seems.

Telling people that they have poor comprehension without specifying what they missed isn't civil behavior.

And do you know, I had started that reply with a fuller explanation, but reconsidered it as a waste of words. I had thought I had been fairly clear: the Continentals did not do most of the fighting, unless you choose to exclude whole categories of other fighting that went on before, during, and after the war.

At the peak of the first empire, maybe. But a monarchy is only as good as it's leader, and king George was not a good one

You mean after they were totally defeated in WW2? Keep in mind it was the European powers who created modern slavery and carved the world up into colonies, and then started two world wars. Easy to point fingers now that you lack the power.

What is unique about the US historically is that they have always claimed to be spreading freedom while frequently doing the exact opposite. Of course it is really just a new twist to the old western excuse for invading: we are civilizing your, or: we are bringing christianity to the poor masses.

But this isn't unique nor Western. The Persians invaded Greece. The Chinese invaded Tibet. Great Britain at the height of its power was screwing over China and India and that's maybe even more impressive from a power projection standpoint considering just how small England was and how much less technology they had.

I don't believe that you actually think that Americans are somehow different from the rest of humanity. Out of 300 million people there are a lot of Americans who don't agree with everything their country does.

There is good and bad, and to act like the US is some kind of extreme outlier is prejudiced and not honest about history. It was less than 100 years ago that every European power had colonies and it was less than 75 that the Japanese and Germans were murdering other peoples in the service of empire.

It's a human thing.

Score 40-70M deaths for Mao and 3-60M for Stalin too. The last hundred years were ridiculous.

Unfortunately the world needs a police. The UN isn't effective. So the US takes a lot of heat for meddling in other country's affairs.

I'd personally like to see us move off a lot of bases, but when shit hits the fan and history repeats itself, a lot of the anti-US critics are going to jump on the wagon. Reminds me of Billy Madison - "Man, I'm glad I called that guy!".

"it is VERY important to protest the US and make Americans aware"

Ah, it's so cute you think that would have any affect.

>But that wasn't always the deal. The US up until 1900 was not the top dog.

Of course. The British Empire, for one, did the finger pointing and "white man's burden" hypocrisy back in the day.

Actually it is. You see, pointing out that every man is potentially a murderer doesn't excuse those that are actual murderers. Why is it acceptable to do wrong based on others doing the same? I certainly teach my kids otherwise.

Oh that is branding. I am sure you know enough history to take that cheerleading seriously. Then there is united states the noble protectors of the notion of the free market.

Brand making and propaganda comes and goes. Everyone of influence does what is most convenient and beneficial for them to do and leave the rest to the ad agencies. Every empire brands itself as a golden empire. Its nothing new.

If being imprisoned and enslaved isn't cruel and unusual punishment, I don't know what is. The constitution doesn't prohibit shit with its useless words in this case.

I always found the faith in the revered interpretations of some constitutional document written centuries ago, and the respect for the "Founding Fathers" not as historical figures, but as some kind of guiding lights for today, totally bizarro.

Even the name "Founding Fathers" and the way it's thrown around seems quite bizarre for a democracy. It's the people, and the will of the people, that should be respected, not what some long gone luminaries said.

The will of the people on 2001-09-12 would be to get rid of jury trials and allow arbitrary searches and seizures. People are emotional and dumb, and sometimes it is helpful to build an intentional slowness into the process. If it's truly the will of the people, you should have no problem getting 2/3 of Congress to agree on it, followed by 3/4 of state legislatures.

Exactly. The Constitution is the result of a negotiation of different states with variable sizes and concerns that did a pretty amazing job balancing everything...up until the point that the federal government started to grow significantly and centralize power post civil war leading to the size it is today.

I agree, pasted from a comment I made in a thread on a Western Union wire fraud case earlier this year:

"those who may be unfamiliar: look into the passing of the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act passed shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a bill of over 2000 pages which was rushed through congress in span of a few days from finalization to ratification under the prosumtion of necessity to provide the tools to combat terrorism. It stripped away many powers of the judicial branch to provide oversight, and provisions intended to be 'temporary' have been continually extended by presidents (executive branch) on both sides of the aisle since."

When that bill was signed into law, it was a clear indication that the 9/11 terrorists had indeed won (achieved their goals) and our own representatives and President had just handed them that victory willingly, albeit rushed and unscrutinized. Requiring a 2/3 majority before passing legislation that brings down the whole country is a great idea indeed.

The Constitution plays an outsized role in the U.S. because our voting populace is quite a bit more conservative than our intellectual elite. Our veneration for the Constitution is why, e.g. bans on interracial marriage were eliminated in 1967 with a Supreme Court case instead of in the 1990s when public support for interracial marriage crossed the 50% line. It's why abortion isn't illegal in roughly one third of the states. It's why schools were desegregated by Supreme Court fiat a decade before the Civil Rights Act was passed.

It's a writ small version of the situation that you see with, e.g. Bangladesh. The voting populace there is very conservative, and despite the constitution creating a secular republic, voters have Islamized the country since then. A few years ago, there was a touchy situation where there was concern an interim military caretaker government would not hand back power to the civilian government once elections were conducted. People like my parents (who immigrated to the U.S. from there) who think secular democracy is really important, kind of supported an undemocratic military intervention that might have the effect of protecting it.

> instead of in the 1990s when public support for interracial marriage crossed the 50% line.



Oh you have no idea. I was walking through super-liberal downtown San Francisco a few years ago with my wife (I'm caucasian, she's asian) when some officious-looking guy walked up to me and said 'I'm going to have to issue you a warning' like he was giving me a traffic ticket.

I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly and was about to cross the street so I did that and then looked at the piece of paper, expecting maybe some some religious admonition. Instead it was a fake legal document saying I'd been identified as a 'race traitor.'

Speech like this is arguably not constitutionally protected by the first amendment, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary. But breaches of the peace have to be enforced by the police; there is no private right of action. This leads to obvious problems where ethnic minorities or members of other protected classes are subject to abuse and local authorities are unsympathetic, a tension reflected in the state/federal legal divide.


Yep. Though as with most things, it's not so much about changing people's minds as it is waiting for the old folks to die:

>Approval of black-white marriage is higher among younger Americans, and lowest among those 65 and older

The reason we normalize everyone believing a corpus of core texts is not because we think those core texts are smarter than anything else that could be written or will be written.

It's because to organize a huge number of people, one must create commonalities among them. Any society must have core beliefs, myths, touchstones, and practices, to keep it unified and keep people cooperating and trusting each other.

The founding fathers, their writings and ideals, form the civil religion that makes a rich black Texan Catholic have some reason to trust a poor white Washingtonian atheist. Even though they may be different in so many ways, they at least have this one thing in common, which separates them together from the wider world of Others.

To cooperate properly, humans need this kind of tribal identity correspondence, and an Other to separate themselves from. It's in-built tribal psychology.

Even if those texts prescribe practices are sometimes sub-optimal in outcome, without them the whole society falls apart pretty quickly due to infighting and unsolvable differences in values and identities.

So the value in the texts is not just policy wisdom - it is simply that they are the thing everyone believes in.

This is what's happening now, in fact - a fetish for destroying normative beliefs means people more and more have nothing in common. People just didn't understand the purpose those beliefs had in the first place. They threw them away and now here we are.

(None of this is to say that the content of the texts is totally irrelevant - a society organized around the writings of the founding fathers is obviously going to be different than a society organized around the writings of Confucius, or the texts of Islam. It just means the content isn't the only reason we hold onto these texts).

The Constitution isn't just a historical document, it's the law. It's certainly open to change by the will of the people, and it defines a process for doing so, which has been used seventeen times.

It's not the only law we interpret this way, considering the intent of the people who created it; courts do the same with laws passed by Congress.

> The Constitution isn't just a historical document, it's the law. It's certainly open to change by the will of the people, and it defines a process for doing so, which has been used seventeen times.

Either 27 or 18, depending on whether you count the simultaneous ratification of the first 10 amendments as one use of the Amendment process or 10 separate, parallel uses.

The only way I can remotely see that gets to 17 is if you count 1-10 and 27 as one use of the Amendment process since they were submitted together, even though 27 was ratified 200 years and a few months after 1-10.

I counted the Bill of Rights as zero, because I was thinking it didn't go through the normal amendment process, and was enacted at the same time as the Constitution itself. I just skimmed wikipedia and it looks like I was wrong about that.

I had a funny feeling I was going to learn something when I posted my comment :)

Yes, and there amendments etc.

But in public discourse, it's not treated as a mere law, something humans created, and they could toss if they like, but as some kind of holy scripture given by some wise old men.

Yes, you can write your own web framework. But it will be even clunkier than the one you chose not to learn and take a long time to address all the edge cases and bugs.

There are plenty of people who treat it as some dusty old-fashioned document that we should just ignore, instead of what it is, which is the law of the land.

It is the law of the land that has successfully been used to base mutually contradictory laws on.

A law professor who made thinking about the Constitution the focus of his career has similar thoughts: "Let's Give Up on the Constitution", http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/opinion/lets-give-up-on-th...

His book, "On Constitutional Disobedience", is now available. I read it, but the piece captures the main idea.

It's been a very useful ideological tool for people who understand how to wield power and are in a position to do so.

I personally think the Republic is far overdue for a refounding, and strongly suspect that the founders of the existing one would have heartily agreed ;-)

> ...the respect for the "Founding Fathers" not as historical figures, but as some kind of guiding lights for today, totally bizarro.

My respect for these men is more about their arguably humanistic, Enlightenment-oriented thoughts, knowledge, and goals, which they set down with the seeming best of intents in the hope of crafting a land and a government better than any the world had seen up until then.

Was their dream perfect, or implemented perfectly? No, perhaps not - they were men of their age, and human - with all the faults and foibles that entails. However, even given these limitations, one can't deny that they did a remarkable job.

Personally, I feel that they did a better job than virtually any of our current politicians here in the US could (or would) do today. Hell, the fact that they argued and were at odds over many of the things in our Constitution, yet had the wisdom and humbleness to discuss, argue, compromise, and concede as adults to craft this document, puts them far ahead of most of our representatives today, IMHO.

> It's the people, and the will of the people, that should be respected, not what some long gone luminaries said.

These "long gone luminaries" would be appalled at our current situation. They expected that the populace would be educated - not to a base level, but to an "Enlightenment level" - each of us capable of rational discussion, discourse, and understanding of virtually all topics of our day. Where we were limited, we would have the temerity to defer to another with better understanding, in the hope of becoming more educated ourselves. We would not rely upon some mystical being who may not even be there (most of them were Deists), but instead rely upon ourselves and the guidance of history to correct our problems as best as we could. We would embrace and not eschew Science and its understandings, because in that knowledge we could find answers.

Instead, today, the majority of the populace is an apathetic mass on virtually everything; the remainder is mostly divided, angry, and poorly educated. Beyond that is a very small percentage of the people - still divided - making the decisions for the majority; the scary thing is, that even among this small percentage of the population, there is still a great amount who are uneducated, superstitious and bigoted (or worse - educated, machiavellian, and bigoted), and they seeming loathe - if not outright irrationally hate - societal and scientific progress.

This country will fall apart unless we get our act together. I just don't see this happening in a way that ultimately matters - whereby the uneducated and/or apathetic portions of our society understand the importance of bettering their minds and engaging (even if it is just having an informed opinion based on facts) in the governmental sphere of their lives, so that the discussions that need to happen do happen, and the divisions are made smaller.

Should the will of the people be respected? Certainly - when it is just and fair. Right now, for a lot of people, it seems like the will is "eye-for-an-eye" and "mob mentality" (and apparently, they are ok with decades long solitary confinement for people who are innocent, just because they look different or think differently). Such ideas, attitudes and wills I cannot respect.

> These "long gone luminaries" would be appalled at our current situation. They expected that the populace would be educated - not to a base level, but to an "Enlightenment level" - each of us capable of rational discussion, discourse, and understanding of virtually all topics of our day. Where we were limited, we would have the temerity to defer to another with better understanding, in the hope of becoming more educated ourselves. We would not rely upon some mystical being who may not even be there (most of them were Deists), but instead rely upon ourselves and the guidance of history to correct our problems as best as we could. We would embrace and not eschew Science and its understandings, because in that knowledge we could find answers.

Why would they have had these lovely expectations, given that they (the founders) constituted a small minority in the colonies and were constructing a government for a majority population that was basically uneducated? Free public education as a movement remained decades in the future. The founders were not stupid or delusional, and they knew their neighbors, and they had no expectation that "the populace would be educated".

Slavery was specifically written into the 13th amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Cruel, but not unusual.

Maybe I shouldn't post this online, but this is one of my biggest fears. Just, being trapped somewhere, alone with your thoughts, with nothing to do.

After reading The Jaunt by Stephen King, I was on edge for a day or two afterwards.

> After reading The Jaunt by Stephen King, I was on edge for a day or two afterwards.

The story has been optioned [1], will be interesting if it does come out as a feature film.

What would be really interesting is if it is used as a platform for different storytelling angles. Instead of coming out insane, someone comes out, Anathem-1,000-Apert-avout-like, with incanting-like powers from meditating for so long. The Buddhists would get a kick out of that; imagine being able to meditate without physical need for far longer than the 10,000 year increments so popular in Buddhist stories. Then put in savage plot twists: the venerated Buddhist sage is sent through and comes out blubbering insane, but an affable Cajun-drawling redneck scientist goes through and comes out with telekinetic and world tracking powers.

[1] http://io9.gizmodo.com/stephen-kings-teleportation-tale-the-...

Ooh, I'll have to read this - thanks for the pointer.

When I was a much younger human I took quite a lot of drugs like mushrooms and MDMA. Toward the end of one such session I found myself in my kitchen, staring into the dark space behind the window and was struck with a realisation of what Hell would be, should it exist. Not spewing fields of lava and endless pains of torture, rather unending consciousness with no inputs or outputs. I imagined black (although that would technically be an input - I am unable to imagine literally nothing!) but just as easily, an infinite field of white would be as horrifically terrifying.

> The Jaunt by Stephen King

God, that story. Such a simple plot, and yet the existential terror of what it describes is beyond comprehension.

You are not alone. Just reading the title turned my stomach. The thought of spending that long alone makes me think of ways I could kill myself without any tools just to be free of the torture.

I fear my mind the most in a situation where it has got nothing to do.

I think a lot of people feel this way, but under the right circumstances (i.e. a meditation retreat) and with enough practice, you'll have access to states of deeply profound peace beyond anything you imagined possible.

Can you elaborate on this - would love to resolve my fear.

Look into vipassana or insight meditation.

It's something _everybody_ can learn and do, there is nothing mystical or religious or secret about it.

You usually start with samadhi (or concentration), where you simply observe your breath - either as air movement through your nostrils or as movements of the abdomen. In the beginning you can count your breaths 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 1 again. Most people lose track at 4 or 5 and get distracted by thoughts in the beginning. If that happens just start at 1. No blaming, just start again.

You can do this for a very long time without getting bored.

After a while you can stop counting, and naturally drift into the vipassana (insight/wisdom) part. Just observe your breath and start noticing whatever else is going on. Sounds, your thoughts, feelings, fears, joys, etc, etc.

I practiced more traditional methods of Vipassana (U Ba Khin and Mahasi Sayadaw) for years, but have actually found a combined metta/insight practice [1] to be more effective, both in terms of mental/emotional wellbeing and progress of insight.

1. http://library.dhammasukha.org/uploads/1/2/8/6/12865490/a_gu...

> In the beginning you can count your breaths 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 1 again.

Why leave out 9? :-)

Do you fear being trapped (say trapped for 2 days, but you knew after that someone would let you out).

Or do you fear having nothing to do, being forced into no action, for that time?

Someone who made millions from Bitcoin or some nonsense please give this guy a million dollars. There needs to be some secret fund for people like this. It's obviously not a fair reparation but it's something.

This is the worst of racism. The next time a white HNer tells PoC to just turn the other cheek toward racist words, point them to this. Racist attitudes are what enable horrific crimes against blacks, such as these.

This is why the of the alt-right and mens-rights and conservative christians fucking terrify me. Somehow, while making slow steady progress a seemingly large swath of people have gotten the idea that things are exactly backwards. As far as they are concerned, whites, males and Christians are under attack and are now lashing out at minorities, women, and non-Christians as if they are "turning the tide" rather than continuing centuries old conflicts.

Every time I read someone talk about a SJW (social justice warrior) somewhere I cringe thinking about what my country will be like in 10 years if not sooner. People seriously think SJWs and political correctness are our actual problems as if things are fine otherwise.

There are a lot of good people here but there are a lot of people with no empathy and little knowledge and then about 200 million people who just do not care as long as the power and internet stay on and they are left alone.

What do you consider to be mens-rights?

gmail me

But that is exactly what is needed, more enlightenment with real stories like this. People aren't going to realize racism is a real problem if you just scream racist to them. I am white and used to think anti-racists were a bunch of idiots. Only by seeing the prevalence of racism in social media did I start realizing racism was a bigger problem than I had imagined. Reading "Gang leader for a day", was a major eye opener. I think I partly got into that because of the TV series the Wire and the book Freakonomics, which covered the economics and social structure of drug gangs.

But this requires some curiosity and interest in learning which biggest and racists might not have. And frankly it is hard to change people's mind when you are calling them names. People tend not to listen to people they don't like.

We also have to accept that racism goes both ways, it is just that white racism has much more severe consequences for black than the other way around. But I believe it helps maintain white racism to some degree.

I am not American, so I can comment on this as an outsider, and I can very clearly see that many American blacks have a big issue with whites. It is hard to win over whites if they only have bad experiences with blacks and also see no point in educating themselves on the issue.

I am not passing out blame. I am just saying, everybody can contribute to making racism a thing of the past. The ones who have to do the most are whites.

I grew up with a sociologist as a mother, which means I grew up being taught a lot these systemic bias indicators. Having tried to explain the systemic nature of racism was certainly much more of a challenge before social media!

I'd also highly recommend everyone take an Implicit Bias test or two - https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html Your results might surprise you.

Is it reasonable to entertain the hypothesis that perhaps the focus on addressing word choice and speech patterns drains energy from combatting real abuses from the legal system?

Wouldn't most minorities prefer to live in a world where people often say insensitive or prejudiced things, but the legal system does not enact violence against them based on their minority status?

Have we conclusively proved that altering speech patterns and day to day expressions of opinion changes the likelihood of state violence against a particular group?

I intuitively feel that a tremendous amount of consciousness raising has happened during my lifetime, but the vicious prison sentences haven't changed much. The massive inequity in legal outcomes continues to be a topic of discussion in the press, and I know people who work for The Innocence Project who feel things are better, but not nearly better enough.

I am concerned that we might be engaged in placebo-like or symptom treating behavior, while the underlying disease goes unaddressed.

Anyone can be put into solitary confinement.

Anyone COULD be lynched in the 1950s. See your problem?

Prisons systems and welfare programs exist the way they do in the US mostly because of racism. If we were a country that all looked similar, we wouldn't be able to see our fellow humans treated this way. But, when it's someone that doesn't look like me? Sure, they look dangerous. Lock them up. Or, sure, they look lazy. Don't give them 'free stuff.'

I don't think my American friends understand how the civilized world looks at US.

To some extent, solitary confinement is way, way worse than death sentence. It is burying people alive. It's a miracle a person can survive for so long and walk out of it in one piece. I imagine the psychological scars must be pretty profound...

and there is even worst: here exceptional testimony of Madagascar's thirty years imprisonment in a recent very book (french only, unfortunately) I suggest


29 years in solitary confinement? What did this guy do, infringe copyright?

I spent 29 years in solitaire

My sadness is we all read this, feel sad, and move on with our comfortable lives.

That we are powerless is bullshit.

I know, right? Worst. Country. Ever. /s

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14562278 and marked it off-topic.

That's a straw man argument. No one claimed it was the worst country ever.

A country that would, and I quote, "...blatantly violate every kind of basic human right" doesn't sound particularly nice, does it?

Every kind of basic human right? I guess we're tied with North Korea, then? If that's the United States, who's worse?

You really don't see the difference between the phrases "worst country ever" and "not particularly nice"?

You're going to have a hard time both learning and teaching if you can't reign in your language a little. No one around you is actually understanding you because your language doesn't represent your true thoughts. You are the only person hearing the arguments you think you're having.

> You are the only person hearing the arguments you think you're having.

The parent made a good point with this: "blatantly violate every kind of basic human right" which was a comment hailing from Italy of all places. Criticism is fine but these ridiculous & inaccurate anti-US statements are exhausting.

It's usually from a country that would be speaking German if it wasn't for the US. No country is perfect but damn, you'd think people would put forth sensible criticism from their glass house.

To the article at hand, and valid criticism - our prison system is seriously broken. It's corrupt. It's costly and ineffective. We're incarcerating way too many people that aren't a risk to society. Then we let out risky inmates because it's overcrowded. We haven't figured out how to provide punishment while at the same time preventing recidivism. Let's be honest - we don't have our brightest running this system.

"You're going to have a hard time both learning and teaching if you can't reign in your language a little."

Did you happen to see the original post I responded to....with the "and then they blatantly violate every kind of basic human right" nonsense?

My response was due to the hyperbolic nature of that statement. It was sarcasm, you know, thus the /s at the end. It is this breathless, over-the-top outrage that I object to, and so if somebody supports that position I'd like to know where exactly they draw the line: is the US truly a terrible country, the worst country ever, or just somewhere in the bottom 10%?

If we're going to be absurd, let's get a handle on where the boundary is.

You, on the other hand, appear to have missed the entire point here. But thanks for the sanctimonious lecture.

Best. Response. Ever. /s

It seemed appropriate, given the inanity of the parent comment.

The United States: a human-rights-abusing farce of a country that is such a hellhole that over a million people from other countries legally immigrate to it every year, half that number are estimated to illegally immigrate to it annually, and the country's judicial system takes a stance to prevent its President from stemming the tide of inbound visitors and prospective residents.

It must be a horrible place.

I don't see any contradiction there. It can be a place of many human rights abuses and a desirable place to immigrate.

If an immigrant thinks they can avoid the abuses, then it might make sense to come anyway. It also might make sense if they are facing worse abuses back home. But either of those things could be true while still having many U.S. citizens whose rights are being violated.

The truth remains that the U.S. only protects the rights of some groups of its citizens, not all of them, which is contradictory to the brand we project.

The people in these prisons essentially live in a different USA than you do, one where punishment from authorities can be harsh and arbitrary with no due process, where human rights violations are rampant, and where they have no democratic vote.

The kind of country I would like to think many of us would rebel against, if we found ourselves living there.


Personal attacks are not allowed on HN and will get your account banned, so please don't post them, regardless of how wrong or annoying another comment was.

The prison system in general, and solitary confinement (and other forms of emotional torture) in particular is a good enough reason in my opinion to dismantle the state and start over.

And it's only one of about 4-5 good reasons right now.

Let's do it.

How about reform? Revolutions have never worked. They just lead to more violence.

I think the problem is that there are too many problems in the US and people focus on too many issues rather than focusing on the underlying issues.

Little can happen until the election system is changed. Hence one needs to vote in politicians who will change it. To make that happen more young people and minorities need to vote. That means whatever you think of prison systems, or anything else, getting more people to vote is number one priority.

What people don't get is that, by merely voting you can make a change even if the choices are shit. If politicians knew lots of young and minorities tended to vote, then the politicians would start attempting to take advantage of that and push issues these groups care about.

I think you'll find that most Americans think one particular revolution worked really well. So do most people who live in countries that gained independence from colonialism, and the French have practically made it a way of life (that's a joke, OK).

Reform and incrementalism are great when there's a broad institutional consensus, but when institutions are widely considered to be corrupt then a rewrite may be better than a refactor. The downsides of revolution are obvious: chaos, violence, unpredictability. But if one honestly accounts for the institutionalized versions in which those conditions are systemically imposed upon unwilling participants, the inevitable conclusion is that social upheaval and a reboot are a price that is sometimes worth paying.

Insofar as enough people feel they have nothing to lose, the economic incentives make it inevitable.

> Revolutions have never worked

I suspect the French would disagree.

Also, we haven't exactly been paying tea tax to Britain for the last 230-odd years either, for that matter.

> > Revolutions have never worked

> I suspect the French would disagree.

France (and particularly the 1789 and 1848 revolutions) is pretty much the first example people making that claim point to. (Though I suppose you can make a case that the 1848 revolution worked, it just faced an extended counterrevolutionary setback in the form of the Second Empire.)

> Also, we haven't exactly been paying tea tax to Britain for the last 230-odd years either, for that matter.

Regional separatist movements are a different thing than revolutions, even if one of the latter gets named as if it were the former.

...And replace it with what?

Fully automated luxury gay space communism.

Self-managed communes.

We tried that with 50 independent self-managed communes, but the central commune still usurped or were gifted most of their powers and responsibilities. What would be different this time around?

Pretending that the US' states were once self-managed communes is simply dishonest.

All in all I don't think that's a very accurate summary of US history.

There's a bug, throw the old code base all away and start over.

Wait, now we have tons of bugs and it doesn't work at all! How long is it going to take to get working again?

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