The case for abolishing prisons


A provocative new paper argues for closing down all — or at least close to all — US prisons.

America should abolish prisons. Perhaps not all of them, but very close to it.

That’s the argument in a recent, provocative paper by Peter Salib, a judicial clerk to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook.

According to Salib, the idea behind the criminal justice system should be to punish and deter crimes. But prisons are arguably a very inefficient way to do that. The research shows that long prison sentences have little impact on crime, and a stint in prison can actually make someone more likely to commit crime — by further exposing them to all sorts of criminal elements. At the same time, prisons are incredibly costly, eating up funds that could go to other government programs that are more effective at fighting crime.

So why not, Salib suggests, consider alternative approaches to punishment that can let someone actually pay their debt back to society without forcing taxpayers to shoulder the burden of paying for his full confinement?

Salib gave the example of an accountant who burned down an office building. Instead of locking him up for potentially decades, Salib suggests keeping an eye on him through other means, such as GPS monitoring, and forcing him to work as an accountant to pay back the cost of the office building. This would, he argues, be much better for everyone involved; the office building owner gets paid back for the damage, and society has to pay much less to confine this person.

The idea is a bit discomforting, not least because it sounds like forced labor or slavery. Coupled with the massive racial disparities in the justice system, the idea takes an ugly turn.

But Salib makes two points: First, forced labor …read more

Source:: Vox – All

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