“California inmates were sent off to fight what has become the largest wildfire in the state’s history for just $1 an hour. These firefighters, who volunteered for a vocational training program offered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, are often disqualified from the work after release because a required credential is denied to anyone with a criminal record.
Hundreds of thousands of prisoners are also employed in jobs outside and inside the prisons, most commonly doing work to maintain the prisons. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average prison worker makes around 85 cents an hour. In 2017, inmates in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas were not paid for most of their work. Proponents of these low-paying jobs have argued that inmates benefit from the work experience and that prisons, which are already often cash-strapped, cannot afford to pay more; opponents have argued that prisoners do need real wages to be able to buy basic necessities other than food in the prisons.”
Arguing that it’s good for them is paternalistic bullshit. The same argument could justify slavery. If prisons are cash strapped, whose responsibility is that? I believe society put these people away and we should pay for it. Either it’s worth it to us or it’s not.
One thing we can do right now is start to use the correct language. Involuntary labor is not employment and we shouldn't call it such. There is even a market where you can buy their products.
You can even outsource work to prison slaves.
There are even private companies that have prison slaves work for them and keep the profits.
Just like slavery did in the American south pre-1865, prison slave labor depresses wages in any industry it operates in.
But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That's why they giving drug offenders time in double digits
> 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.
Women couldn't vote for quite some time. Some people weren't fully human. Only landowners could vote. And so on.
Furthermore, it being in the constitution still doesn't detract from it being slavery.
Am I taking away your visitation rights, or am I just not giving them to you? Am I taking away your food, or am I just not giving you food?
Expectation and norms play a role in this. Suppose a judge gives a prisoner a higher sentence under the expectation that they'll work it off. They assume the prisoner will work 7 days a week, so they give a prisoner 6 years instead of 3.
Now suppose another judge gives a prisoner the correct sentence (3 years), but then says, "for every day of your original sentence that you don't work, you will spend one additional day in prison."
You're arguing that there's a fundamental difference between these two scenarios, but what is it? It's certainly not a difference for the prisoners -- they have the exact same incentive structure, and their outcomes and choices are exactly the same. It's not any different for the people benefiting from their labor; the work that they produce will look exactly the same. It doesn't even reveal any compelling differences in the judges' motivations -- both judges might reach their decision for the exact same same reasons.
So where is the difference?
This seems like a problem even if prisoner wages are raised. If we incarcerate people, we should provide them with toothbrushes even if they can't/won't risk their lives fighting fires for a pittance.
Many times the people complaining are privileged elites who are inferring what these populations want, but I would caution them to not make assumptions and do their research. It is not unambiguously bad to do this.
We can talk about the long-term reforms of prison, but there are short-term concerns too that might be helpful to them.
Getting over on someone seems more and more prevalent these days. I swear businesses weren't as bad about these things in the 80's and 90's,maybe it's rose-colored glasses and all that jazz.
But not all of it need be paid. If I take an intern along to a job that I could’ve done in the same time alone, but I let the intern do the work and supervise them on how to do it, that needn’t be paid because the intern is not providing value, they are just getting training.
The loudest voices are often the most removed. Watching people in privileged positions immediately infer solutions about things that rarely impact their lives is like watching Madonna give an Aretha Franklin tribute. At the end of the day, it's self-interested. Bringing attention to the matter is definitely important and a worthy cause for sure, but approaching complex problems with unambiguous solutions without much interaction with those actually impacted is not substantively furthering the cause. What seems like a viable conjecture actually becomes using a hammer to pound in a screw. There are big qualitative and empathetic parts in figuring out a strategy that aren't covered in the headlines about prison or published crime statistics.
This actually seems like a pretty good deal, what would you pay to get a day off your sentence?
That said, I think the Prision system is fucked, has horrible incentives, private companies abuse bought prison labor, etc. etc.
But I actually felt like this program was pretty good - though they ought to let them become fire fighters!
It feels instinctively wrong to tie prison time to pay - it should be tied to rehabilitation. And asking someone to risk their lives so they can gamble on reduced prison time just seems... I dunno, isn't that the thing that's usually done by villains in the story books? I mean, maybe I'm naive about it, but I have a fairly strong cultural background telling me that using people's desperation to convince them to do terrible jobs is kind of on the evil side?
Is there additional nuance I'm missing? My first thought is: suppose they were payed a real wage, but independently the prison system had a vending machine where you could exchange wages for reduced prison time. I wouldn't be OK with a system like that.
My objection also wouldn't be about the details. It wouldn't be, "Oh, maybe it'll get abused or someone might threaten a prisoner for money." If I was forced to describe why a system like that felt so wrong, I would probably say something like, "Rehabilitation isn't transactional, and a debt to society isn't something that can be repaid with cash."
So this feels like an abstraction to me that doesn't ultimately change anything about the underlying mechanics being kind of messed up.
If that's not the case, if fighting fires is purely a rehabilitation strategy and the reduced sentence isn't a substitute for money -- then shouldn't we be paying them as well as reducing their prison sentence? If we're not treating freedom as equivalent to wages, then why are they being denied wages?
I’m also guessing the reason the “opportunity” exists is in part because those laws don’t apply and you can get firefighters for $1/hour.
Presumably they don’t offer the option to reduce sentences from other prison jobs like laundry or cooking, and these firefighter jobs are seen as providing a form of service to the greater community, and at a risk.
Also, keep in mind that much of our economic system and policy is predicated on the idea of using people’s desperstion to get them to do horrible jobs.
As others have said, though, it definitely is unjust that they face discrimination when attempting to do the same work as civilians.
You seem to be reasoning under the assumption that prison exists for rehabilitation. It doesn't. Incarceration serves to punish. And forced labour is an additional punishment.
Therefore substituting prison time with extra work seems a fair trade-off, and one well aligned with the intended goals of the prison system.
The most likely reason we're offering to knock off prison time is because we really stinking need firefighters. It's not a punishment, we're exchanging prison time for a service that we want very much. If there wasn't a forest fire, we wouldn't be offering it.
If punishment was actually the purpose of these programs, we would be a lot more creative and a lot more specific in how we reduced prison sentences: "Okay, here's a bottle of sterilized urine. Drink it, and we'll knock a day off." But in practice, you don't see stuff like that. Forced labor is nearly always phrased by its proponents as something that's good for the prisoner's character, and as an effective way to repay a social debt. Look over the comments on this very article and you'll find more than a few people saying that getting to work outside is a privilege for prisoners and they should be happy just with that as a reward.
The rephrasing of work as a direct punishment (especially when it's tied to money) manages to somehow makes the entire situation feel even worse to me. At least when it was transactional you could talk about it as being something that's good for both parties. I don't think that argument holds up, it's at least a reasonable starting point.
But it seems obvious to me that the state shouldn't have a financial incentive to punish people. If punishment is our goal, the way we're going about it is super corrupt.
The same applies to a lot of other sectors. All the basic utilities and universal healthcare should be public-sector, because any benefits relating to market efficiency are more than offset by distortions to the political process resulting from lobbying.
Still, the basic point stands that incarceration is a form of punishment, and it is legitimate for it to include a component of hard labour.
well said. concise and correct, IMO.
It’s not like a billionaire (quibble about billionaires being in jail) can load up a commissary card and buy time off.
On the contrary, the billionaire would have to work the same hours as the guy who robbed the booze store and get 1 day off for every one worked.
I’m much more troubled by having private companies buying cheap prison labor to make goods or do customer service.
It’s interesting to note as well that I think I share the same underlying thesis that prisons are fucked, with terrible incentives and I am in favor of revamping the entire system — however this one program does not bother me the same way it does others.
If I was to guess, I’d imagine I have much more progressive views about prison reform than most opposed to this program. This is fascinating to me.
For example, I’ve been speaking with VCs about doing a “prison startup” with the right incentives - including things like cooperative ownership by the prisoners themselves.
In my view crime is a context not a characterstic of an individual.
The perverse incentive of increasing prison times to generate more cheap labor.
But this subsystem is being presented in a skewed way. Yes it’s $1/hour; but you also earn a day of freedom for each day you work.
Maybe the sentence was too long to begin with that suggests? If releasing that person in exchange for some simple work is ok (e.g. does not make us less safe, keeps victim whole etc ), why the sentence could not be like that to begin with?
I dont mean to make it general rule, I see why you want shorten sentences in exchange of good behavior to motivate prisoners. But, sentences are very long in America to begin with.
The practical difference between "if you dont work for 80cents an hour you get twice as much sentence" and "your sentence gets halved if you do" is rather small given that the number we are halving/doubling is arbitrary.
That's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is for every day you don't work you have to spend a day in jail.
That sound more like coercion than volunteering to me.
No. This is false.
When you land in prison, the duration of your sentence is fixed. You can't increase it, except by committing additional crimes while behind bars. But you can mitigate it by working as a volunteer.
But you’ve already got your sentence from a judge after being convinced of a crime.
What would you prefer?
Interesting. You could conceivably rationalize that as being equivalent to a fair wage--every day you work gets you one extra day closer to getting out and starting a real job.
Of course that still ignores the obvious problem of how hard it is for a broke ex-con to find work. But it's better than nothing, I guess.
You get better visitation, you are outside, I’d imagine that though dangerous, fighting fires is rewarding. Plus you earn a day of freedom for every day worked.
They ought to give them the training to become fire fighters when they get out though, and work to change laws preventing felons from firefighting work.
> "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
- 13th amendment
And no, I don't think anyone should be sentenced to be a slave or a firemen. Any such sentence probably would violate the 8th amendment.
 Insightful: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17813698
The modern prison labor system varies from this in degree, but not really in kind. Inmates are still compelled to work in the US.
also, there are a lot of constitutional things - like eugenics programs - that simply aren't practiced anymore anywhere. so awareness and public disfavor can alter the reality without a legal change being necessary.
It's horrifying when you start to see the whole process in its entirety and doubly so when you realize how much money is generated through the system. Criminal justice reform is incredibly difficult to actually pass as a result.
Criminal justice reform has lobbyists against it, and also has a culture that is obsessed with punishment and bloodlust.
I think prisoner wages or the duties of prisoners can be addressed in some capacity, without maintaining a massive slave labor force. The circumstances around wording of the 13th Amendment, and subsequent case law may allow for redress against this outcome.
From the majority opinion in Bailey v. Alabama in 1910
> "The plain intention [of the amendment] was to abolish slavery of whatever name and form and all its badges and incidents; to render impossible any state of bondage; to make labor free, by prohibiting that control by which the personal service of one man is disposed of or coerced for another's benefit, which is the essence of involuntary servitude. While the Amendment was self-executing, so far as its terms were applicable to any existing condition, Congress was authorized to secure its complete enforcement by appropriate legislation."
So I see what the amendment says - prisoners can be slaves - but honestly, it may be as simple as that having never been challenged. Its probably why they are paid 85 cents in some cases, and only a handful of traditionally southern states paying them nothing.
In conclusion: there may not be public support for prisoner slavery, there may not be Congressional or state legislature support for prisoner slavery, and even if it got to the Supreme Court they might just lean on old case law instead of the plain text of the amendment.
I've offered perspectives to John Jay College of Criminal Justice on what arguments they should attempt in the courts, even though that approach was uncharted territory.
I'm not a lawyer.
I also don't care what the public thinks, I care about influence and outcomes that I like, and the public is VERY far removed from that process except in circumstances where the public coincidentally was already aligned with influential interests.
Thats why I start with simple questions such as "can this reach consensus necessary", that "consensus" can come from a Federal District Judge in Guam for all I care. Sometimes "consensus" is "we - the government - don't find it prudent to appeal this case" such as you saw with the stop and frisk federal appeals case in NYC.
I know the lawyers that came up the Citizens United arguments on some arbitrary first amendment grounds just because they could. Guess what, they ALWAYS go for first amendment. They practically pick the judges to hear their cases too.
And when I look at the 13th Amendment and power structures inside the US, I think there is plenty of room to get closer to the outcome you are interested in.
Not to be pedantic, but this is slavery, allowed by our own constitution. Of course this argument is used to justify it although under the law, no justification is needed. What we need to do is to get rid of slavery altogether in America in 2018 and beyond. It's ridiculous that we call out other countries for human rights abuses while we have slavery all throughout our prisons, especially in the south (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas).
It's often a CYA and public perception issue: org X receives application from convict, considers fallout if convict does something bad, realizes it'll become a PR nightmare and that they'll be torn to shreds for permitting the hire. The risk is never outweighed by the benefit, in their eyes.
Many (most?) western countries do not publish convict names unless it's very serious, such as murder. There's no reason a typical employer, let alone the public, should know you served time in the past.
It is a society that deeply believes in retribution for "lower class" crimes and slap on the wrist for "high class" crimes. I don't like it, but I absolutely see it.
The same argument _was_ used to justify slavery, for a couple centuries.
Issue after issue, money is a terrible influence in our politics.
Sitting in a cage or a large room with other inmates with nothing productive to do can itself be considered a form of psychological torture, which is precisely what some proponents of prison industry have argued: https://sci-hub.tw/10.2307/1147470
should you construct an argument only by its premise, or should you try to reach the person? I think [s]he assumed that you are not a prison abolitionist and tried to find an argument that might sway you.
Is it better or worse to argue like that?
Why isn't the 'right' as upset about this as they are illegal immigrants?
The "right" will usually admit that there are incentive issues in the system, but there is no philosophical issue with incarceration. They would also say that prisoners should work to pay their own way, because it isn't fair to tax payers to shoulder the burden when tax payers didn't do the crime (this is why they love Sheriff Joe Arpaio). In general they are very supportive of "law and order" and police/military/etc in general. Of course there will be conservatives that don't feel this way, but many do.
CA has to release thousands of prisons soon due to funding issues.
BTW, I'm not talking legally, I'm talking morally, they should have never gone to jail or prison in the first place for mere possession.
Then they are targets for recidivism and society loses out. Otherwise, I'm perfectly fine with less prisons.
I'm not sure the solution is to ensure that the minority that get caught are unable to ever go back to being productive, effectively being forced into finding alternative means to pay their rent/bills/etc.
I'm somewhat sympathetic to the argument, but why is the focus solely on what is "good for them?" Discussions of over-incarceration aside, there is a legitimate place for prison. These people are already a burden on society--housing a prisoner costs tens of thousands of dollars--why shouldn't they be forced to take on some of their own upkeep?
Note that we do this with another class of people who are wards of someone else: children. Nobody is arguing you should have to pay kids minimum wage for doing chores...
If keeping people in prison is an economic gain for society, you are going to send people to prison whatever they deserve it or not. And that is the case in the USA.
"He was found guilty in February of racketeering for taking a $1 million kickback from the builder of for-profit prisons for juveniles. Ciavarella who left the bench over two years ago after he and another judge, Michael Conahan, were accused of sentencing youngsters to prisons they had a hand in building." https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2011/08/12/pennsylv...
So over-incarceration cannot be set apart from economical profit for jailing citizens.
> Nobody is arguing you should have to pay kids minimum wage for doing chores...
Children labour is forbidden. And when they actually work, e.g. movie actors, they get paid.
Make society pay for sending people to prison and they are going to be more eager to rehabilitate than to punish. It is not the only factor, but it helps.
Because taking away someone's freedoms is a serious thing. There should be a high economic cost to society for imprisoning people; it serves as a structural disincentive to over-use of prison.
Perhaps the morality of over-using prison should serve as a sufficient deterrent for society, but the facts demonstrate that this is not the case.
America's very serious incarceration problem needs economic disincentives because the status quo proves that this country is apparently not sufficiently motivated by morality.
And even if you don't accept this argument, it still does not follow that we should under-pay prisoners. We should at the very least pay prisoners market rates and then charge them for the true cost of their incarceration. E.g.,
National average salary for firefighters: $49,330 PLUS (good) health benefits.
National average total cost of incarceration: $31,000 INCLUDING (terrible) health care. And keep in mind that a well-behaved prisoner in a low or medium security facility -- likely the case for those allowed on firefighting crews -- will cost substantially less than the amortized per-prisoner cost.
So even if inmates should "earn their keep", the state is still pocketing on the order of 5 figures per year. Worse still, IMO that money would go a lot further preventing recidivism than any amount of rehabilitation or work ethic.
"Chores" and "labor" are categorically different things, and the motivation for the former isn't usually "offsetting their upkeep", so much as it's "instilling a sense of personal responsibility".
This is a specious comparison.
Furthermore, when a farmer's child does chores alongside a paid laborer, what's going on?
1. The right to say "no" without repercussions beyond "not getting paid".
2. Significant statutory protections regarding exploitative treatment.
EDIT: There's also a large body of statute defining what is and isn't okay in the family farm situation.
Have you ever had parents? I realize it's outside the Overton window to do anything about it, but age-based slavery is ubiquitous and the legal default in essentially (I think literally) every country on Earth. It's an even more pervasive affliction than copyright, so I find your ignorance implausible.
0: in the ownership sense; actually using them for forced labor is less common
Please try to address the argument I actually made.
Also, you were responding to:
> a teenager mowing the lawn for their parents
which was about their (owner's) own lawn.
>>>> What's the difference between a teenager mowing the lawn for their parents and someone paid to mow a lawn?
In response to which, I said:
>>> The kid getting paid to mow neighborhood lawns has:
Selective quoting tends to change the context a bit, don't you think?
Then I don't think it really applies to this situation, since just as familial relations are superseding "business" relations in your example, certainly the prison relations change the nature of the business relations drastically.
But I think this is certainly labor, but the distinction between labor and chore is not so clear. I don't think it matters to the inmates, but I found it bizarre how confident HNers are that chores and labor are intrinsically different.
I think we started off on the wrong foot with the comparison. Even government recognizes some difference between chores and labor, as childhood labor is illegal but it's not illegal to have your kids mow the law (afaik).
Its really just an ever so tempting argument of semantics that is at this point distracting me from the real plight of prison laborers. But that's how the internet goes.
Both of them involve "work", but the objectives — the reasons the people doing the work are doing it — aren't the same.
Any argument about upkeep doesn't hold water as well, because these prisons aren't using the money for upkeep, they are making a profit
You can't premise an argument regarding the current general case for prisoners on what's now either a historical, or an edge case for children.
My humble opinion is that this creates a perverse incentive which undermines the pursuit of justice. If we as a society feel that imprisoning people is an sound, effective form of justice, then we as a society should accept the full costs associated with imprisonment. If we are unwilling to pay for such, then we should sit back and think of a more cost-appropriate solution.
The use of prison slave labor encourages more crime (via ambigiuously written laws), harsher sentencing(mandatory minimum sentencing), and recidivism because it is profitable for those in the justice system.
I can see why people would agree with your sentiment; I certainly use to. But now I think it is naive, short-sighted, and doesn't align well with what I feel is the purpose of prison (reformation).
In fact, the government will punish the parents if they try to not take care of their child or punish them too severely for not doing their chores
Let's see how long you can do that before the government and society come down on you
Edit: I don't think "relatively recently" even applies here. Child labor laws were passed long before we had laws allowing things like mixed race marriage, gay marriage, civil rights for minorities, and other social changes. We are no longer an agrarian society that needs mass free labor to survive
Life has more value in well off western countries today. Child mortality is low. Families have few children. So no, you can’t abuse your kids, the state doesn’t like that.
One is a child. They do not have the freedoms which we, as a society, have given them yet due to their age, lack of maturity and lack of means.
Finding a job is tough as an ex-con. Your support network may well be gone, or it may be entirely composed of people who enabled you in the first place.
Most kids have years of supported, gradual transition from unpaid chores to fully-independent adults, although there are obviously exceptions to that. I feel really badly for kids who enter adulthood from foster care.
I don't see this position being articulated here. Can you help me understand how you read the people disagreeing with you as saying that?
and parents usually give a shit about their own kids
What do you think kids on farms do?
Eh, I could argue that, particularly if you're adopting child after child just to use them as free labor, like society does when "adopting" prisoners.
Because slavery is wrong.
It’s inhumane garbage, and I’m amazed at how much people protest things like Netflix price increases when we have way worse problems that warrant our time and money.
I disagree with this sentiment, I was ( some 20 years ago ) incarcerated for drug dealing. I broke the law ( much more than I was caught and prosecuted for btw... ) and I deserved what I got, probably more.
For the record, being in prison sucks... it's SUPPOSED to suck, it's supposed to make you regret what you did to get put in there and actively look forward to the day of your release, it's not supposed to be a cushy summer camp for confused snowflakes... if it was, it WOULD NOT rehabilitate errant individuals like myself. The fact that it did suck SO BAD, is STILL some 20 years later FRONT-AND-CENTER in my mind - actively DETERRING me from doing something stupid and illegal again.
Also, for the record, I was allowed to EARN the right to work outside the prison ( good behavior / etc... ), for about a dollar a day ( usually removing trash and cleaning roadsides and tending parks and other municipal assets ) and I made more ( triple if I remember correctly ) when on fire duty.
Fire duty started the minute you got on a bus and left the prison, and ended when you got back, even if you did nothing but sit on the bus on the side of some road... you got paid for every hour you were on duty - 24 hours a day / 7 days a week - IT WAS GOOD MONEY ( for being in prison ) and it was a PRIVILEGE... because more than the money ( which was nice to have in prison, believe me ) it allowed you to go OUTSIDE of the prison, which was PRICELESS.
"Pay them for their hardwork and they'll learn they can succeed in life by hardwork, determination and honesty" -- Again I disagree, I learned nothing of the sort, what I learned is this: There are NO SHORTCUTS to success, and I should quit breaking the law and instead become a productive member of society INSTEAD of being a criminal.
Giving criminals (like my former self) better pay and treatment in prison has to be the stupidest idea I've ever heard of. If it wouldn't have been terrible I maybe would still be a criminal, because the deterrent would be insufficient.
Most prisons are places where the word "criminal" is imprinted on your soul. You live as a criminal and learn from criminals. Or you're isolated which damages your mental health. If you have children, they normalize the idea of being a criminal. You lose your friends and colleagues (your "support network") so when you get out, where else do you go other than crime?
The idea behind Norway's incarceration system is simple. You deprive the person of their freedom, then simulate real life in a controlled environment. You teach them skills. You teach them how to socialize. You do everything to make sure that the criminal learns how to live a normal life.
So why don't other countries implement this system? Two reasons, both of which have to do with politics:
1- Politicians who act "tough on crime" are applauded (as if that will make the streets safer).
2- You produce cheap products and compete with the cheap labor of the third world. Why destroy a system that can produce a lot on the cheap (while banning the import of products of prison labor)?
Norway has ~5M people while the US has ~325M people. The US has a 5.35/100k murder rate compared to .51/100k murder rate for Norway . In 2014, Chicago alone had 14x the number of murders the entire country of Norway had . Pretty much across the board, the US has a ton more crime than Norway . The scale and expanse of the problem is so vastly different between Norway and the US that is would take nothing short of a societal shift to begin to approach overhauling such a massive problem. Norway is basically sample size data when planning a criminal justice system for countries with 100M+ people that are already more socioeconomically strained.
Politics is a part of the problem, but fixing criminal justice is immensely more complicated than a 2-step solution of fix politics and copy Norway.
The issue is that if you fuck up and go to jail, your life is effectively over.
Apologies, I don't mean to come off as pessimistic. But its clear to me that prison for most folks meant a place for really bad people so nobody in regular society gives a shit for the plight of prisoners and over time it has created a system where its hard to introduce any meaningful reform.
We have a long way to go. Treating our inmates better requires Americans to have some semblance of compassion, and considering how we can’t even agree that everyone should be able to see a doctor and not die or go bankrupt from an infection, I have sincere doubts that we will ever make things better for prisoners in our lifetimes.
Not to mention, prisons now incentivized to soak up that larger cashflow and get more prisoners
Instead, if prisoners had to pay their monthly rent, make sure their income covered that rent, budgeted for extras like meat with their dinner, etc... those skills all translate to proper functioning outside of prison.
Seems reasonable to me.
If the only people going to prison were rapists, we wouldn't have the largest prison population in the developed world as an absolute and a percentage of our population.
That's not the point though, it's that no distinction is being drawn here. We already put a considerable effort into predicting recidivism, but people in this thread seem to assume that the majority, or all prisoners warrant an expensive supported release, despite the obvious likelihood that a certain number are virtually guaranteed to want to reoffend, and would use any resources they're given to do so.
As much as anyone, I am against the excessive policies which force fine people into a lifetime of criminality. However that problem can not be solved with release policy, it has to be solved in criminal law.
New Yorkers, don't seem to bring issues like their ridiculous knife laws (which frequently target innocent people who use folding knives at work; knives which are sold openly in major cities) to the ballot; many states chock full of people who complain about excess imprisonment don't vote on issues surrounding the policies and law which make soft recreational drugs an underground criminal enterprise, and produce unexpected black markets in services like hair styling.
Ironically, the people who complain about the prison population most vocally, are frequently the same people who say "there ought to be a law!" whenever the slightest issue arises in public life.
Possibly unfortunately (though it's not that simple, as prosecutors, being human, still err), the legislature disagrees with you. With personal experience in a proceeding of a charge like this, I assure you child rapists are usually let out of jail before murderers.
And for damn good reason. If murder carries a shorter sentence than raping a child, well guess how a rapist might make sure their victim never testifies.
This way they still suffer for life, and people know to steer clear, but they don't cost $$ to keep in prison. Win/Win.
But that's precisely the thing, isn't it? For-profit prisons, a multi-billion dollar business, are precisely incenctivised to bring and keep and many prisoners inside as possible. It's an economic incentive that works precisely against the social goals we as a society would like to achieve (for the great gain of a select few). Absolutely disgusting.
For-profit prisons are obviously a bad policy, but only 8% of America's prisoners are incarcerated in them (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/11/u-s-private-...) and it's not clear that they are either necessary nor sufficient as a cause for these problems.
Most of these policies were enacted during the 1960's-1990's crime wave as a response to it, and not as some sort of special-interest conspiracy. It turns out that unintended consequences are a lot more common than sinister special interest conspiracies.
Teaching, training, therapy, yes, please, absolutely. Humane conditions and treatment from the guards most definitely.
But minimum wage? I’m not sure. I like the idea of inmates being able to complete their sentence with some funds they’ve saved up to help get back on their feet. But that’s what halfway houses are supposed to support I guess?
I don't really mind prisoners doing basic upkeep in prisons (housekeeping, laundry, food prep, and things like that) for a few hours a week. This sort of thing is normal in a household, after all, and part of being a productive member of society. Anything outside of that is slave labor if you aren't getting paid anything but a pittance for it and have nothing to show for it when you leave. I don't mind it being reduced minimum wage (25-33% less, for example), but it should be more than it is.
If anything, prisoners would have a fund saved up for when they leave. We wouldn't have to make the prisoners families suffer if they can send money home for food and such. And they could buy basic toiletries.
> Teaching, training, therapy, yes, please, absolutely. Humane conditions and treatment from the guards most definitely.
> But minimum wage? I’m not sure. I like the idea of innates being able to complete their sentence with some funds they’ve saved up to help get back on their feet. But that’s what halfway houses are supposed to support I guess?
So, don't let people save on their own and instead force them into a new aspect of the justice system upon "release"? Didn't they serve their time in prison? Why prolong the sentence and force them to remain in the system?
If prisoners could be given a living wage then I would bet you would have less of them returning to selling drugs etc in order to survive because they leave prison with literally nothing to their name.
Also, what if they cannot find jobs paying living wage? Wouldn't they just be more motivated to return to prison?
It would be reasonable to devote 10-20% of the wages to prison maintenance or victims reparations, but saying their labor is worth 1$ is preposterous.
It’s not unreasonable to treat prisoners as a unique population / special case. They are not incarcerated so that they can continue gainful employment.
Prisoners should not be getting paid to cook, clean, do laundry, etc. to help operate the prison, for example.
My understanding was jobs that provided for options to work outside the prison (like cleaning up roadside garbage) were coveted chances to get outside and maybe earn some time off for community service.
Court ordered community service can also be a reasonable punishment instead of incarceration.
But if you dont like a moral argument, make it an economic one. Each prisoner in california costs like 100k a year: if you paid them reasonable salaries, and they reduce re-incarceration rates you will be saving orders of magnitude more money.
Forcing prisoners to pay for their incarceration creates the same incentives as slavery.
Not being paid for things that you're otherwise also not paid for isn't a punishment, that's just normal every day life in general.
So why try to restrict it beyond physical separation?
Crime victims seem to crave “revenge”. It’s a very human thing. In fact psychological studies have shown it turns out that revenge feels quite fulfilling to the perpetrator. Societies without an institutionalized punitive systems (like much of western society has historically) tend to have family feuds which can last for generations.
I don’t think that should be a norm, bit plenty seem to think so, often quite strongly.
Trying to rationalize irrational behavior is an uphill battle. So instead of rationalizing the prison system we should aim to minimize it - and over time (likely generations) phase it out completely.
A visceral demonstration of decent rewards from legitimate work might reduce recidivism, which seems like a social good but is reducing the labor supply for prison industry and reducing the demand for (and leverage of) correctional officers and other prison employees. Lots of people have lots of money on the line, and the prison labor population is felons, who both can't vote and lack sympathy from those who can. So, the weight of the political pressure is virtually all on one side.
Given the welfare system and what I've seen of crime stats, my impression is that crimes that could be described as "stealing to survive" are nearly non-existent. Even mentally ill homeless people rarely "steal to survive". The soup kitchen, subsidized apartment and welfare cheque are a lot easier.
And anyway, how many times do you need to shoplift bread from the market before you get sent to prison? Is such a thing even possible?
People commit prison-worthy crimes because they need a lot of money fast for drugs, or out of anger or for revenge or over gang disputes and personal disputes. "Stealing to survive" doesn't really exist in developed countries, so your argument makes no sense.
I'd be really interested in any crime stats to support the idea that a substantial number of prisoner are there for crimes that were necessary for survival. Do we even send people to prison for crimes like this?
You are right that currently the US fails in this regard, but that doesn't mean it has to be that way.
The whole point of money was to make it possible for 2+ good actors to do legal (and different) work/goods/services for each other while profiting.
Most people who end up in prison were “bad actors” by definition. The system was not benefiting from them. And thus I can’t help thinking that they don’t really deserve any of the system’s monetary medium of exchange.
Focusing on what people "deserve", instead of on what's best for society, is the reason the US has the worst health care in the western world while also spending more tax money on health care per capita than anyone else on the planet. We'd rather spend 10 dollars making sure no one ever gets more than their fair share than risk one dollar going to someone who doesn't "deserve" it.
Most people in prison today are there because of "drug offenses" which usually means they got caught doing drugs themselves (not dealing drugs or being involved in drug induced crimes).
Including "drug offenses" the U.S. incarceration rate is 693 per 100,000.
Excluding "drug offenses" the U.S. incarceration rate is still 625 per 100,000.
I agree with you that we should get the drug offenders out. But the characterizations that "most people are in prison for drug offenses" should be updated.
From here on is only speculation and I'll do a deeper dive when I'm not on a phone. I'd like to see the rest of the statistics broken down by offense. Additionally I suspect that drug offenses would lead to repeated incarceration and perhaps eventually worse offenses.
Most violent offenses are committed in the context of existing relationships though, so there are certainly non-policy and certainly non-drug-policy ways to address crime in the United States.
> From BJS [Bureau of Justice Statistics], [...] an incarceration rate of about 725 people per 100,000 population.
> Suppose every federal drug offender were released today. That would cut the incarceration rate to about 693 inmates per 100,000 population. Suppose further that every drug offender in a state prison were also released. That would get the rate down to 625
(It should go without saying that these are all simplistic lenses on a very complex, multifaceted problem, and in reality many parts of the justice system need reform.)
Even taking your claim at face value, whether or not someone "deserves" to benefit from some profit-based exchange of labor for currency seems irrelevant. If work has a concrete value and someone is unable to receive fair compensation for that work, and all of the value is received by someone else who did not do the work, this is inherently unfair and unethical (and by definition, slavery).
In a monetary society (as opposed to credit or barter (intermediary like you suggest) — monetary circuitist terminology), money is created as a debt/credit tuple to facilitate an intertemporal private contract (tit-for-tat), of which cash is a physical token representation. The etymology of “credit” is “faith”, “honor”, “merit” etc. That of debt, at least in some germanic languages (“schuld”) literally means “guilt” and has connotations of sin and atonement.
No matter what crime someone's committed, they're still a person, and if our goal is more productive members of society, cutting people off from the main tool for goods exchange will not move us toward that goal.
Disagree. Majority of the offenders are there for non-violent drug offenses. It is also possible some of them are serving sentences for crimes that are no more crimes. California has liberalized marijuana but the prisoners are still in jail for the crimes that no more crimes.
I don't believe this is true.
46% drug offenses, 6.8% immigration and we’re already past the 50% mark. That as they say, is a majority.
Edit: Looking at all populations state, federal, local yields: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html
Note: But the offense data oversimplifies how people interact with the criminal justice system. A person in prison for multiple offenses is reported only for the most serious offense so, for example, there are people in prison for “violent” offenses who might have also been convicted of a drug offense. Further, almost all convictions are the result of plea bargains, where people plead guilty to a lesser offense, perhaps of a different category or one that they may not have actually committed.
> According to the Bureau of Prisons, there are 207,847 people incarcerated in federal prisons. Roughly half (48.6 percent) are in for drug offenses.
Additionally, the words "Bureau of Prisons" are actually a link to the same site GW150914 is citing (https://bop.gov/about/statistics/).