The Penal Principle
by Doctor Thomas L. Magliozzi (Ph.D. in Penology)
There I was. Just musing, as I am wont to do. And I mused this:
The way that we "punish" criminals has never made any sense to me. We build expensive facilities in which to incarcerate them. Various sources estimate that a prisoner costs us $30,000 to $50,000 a year. (Yes, it costs US. You and me.)
Now let me get this straight. These criminals are people who have said, "I don't want to subscribe to the rules that this society has set up. I want to operate by my own rules. I don't like your rules. I happen to think it's OK for me to rob, plunder, rape, murder and whatever else. Catch me if you can." So, we catch them. Then what? Then we pay $30k to $50 K to put them away for a short time in the hope that they'll be dissuaded from doing this again. They aren't dissuaded. They already told us that they don't like our rules, and locking them up for 5, 10 or 50 years doesn't make them like the rules any better. Recidivism rates are very high.
And we pay several times. The $50,000 it takes to keep them away from society for a year is just the beginning. The fact that they've done whatever they've done has lots of other costs. Insurance for one. All of us pay for insurance to help defray the cost of crime when it strikes us. And not just our own insurance. Every product or service we spend money for has in it an additional cost because of the insurance that the provider had to buy. And money doesn't go just to the insurance companies. All those plain clothes people skulking around K Mart have to get paid. So you buy a pair of shorts and you paid some percentage for the "crime tax"--insurance, guards, shoplifting losses etc. Then they get caught and they want us to pay again? Why should we pay anything? Just what are we paying for anyway? A year or two (or 20?) of freedom from that particular criminal? When there are so many to take his place that we don't even know he's gone?
Here's my idea. Since these sociopaths have come right out and stated that they don't like the society that the rest of us have devised (and there ARE more of us than there are of them--at least, so far), why do we allow them to live in it? Why not give them their own society to live in. They deserve each other, don't they. Some would say that the prisons are that society. But WE build the prisons for them. WE run them. WE supply the food, the TV's the weight room, the heat and light and laundry. Why us? Why are WE obliged to care for criminals? "Society" has basically said "Here are the rules that we all agree to follow if we're going to live together." The criminals say, "We don't like the rules." Isn't the obvious response, "Fine. Go somewhere else, and make your own society."
Now I'm not saying that prison is a day at the beach, but it's surely way too good. Why not this:
Why not choose an impenetrable location. One that can be easily guarded. Preferably one that has NO amenities. A jungle, perhaps. The rationale is simple. If you don't want to live here, live there. But there's no food! No TV! No nuthin'! I can't even get in touch with the ACLU!
Well isn't THAT just too bad. You did say you didn't want to live here, didn't you?
This has all the attributes of a great idea:
- It solves the problem.
- It's simple.
- It's much less expensive than the current solution
- And it's not new.
You've probably already recognized this idea. It's Devil's Island. It was the idea behind Australia--but Australia was far too good a place to "give away" to the scum of the earth. So was Devil's Island, for that matter. I personally like Siberia. Or Montana. Someplace that nobody wants. We give it to them and they fend for themselves.
Think about the advantages.
1. All the criminals of the world will be together. If they figure out how to eat, they eat. If they decide to steal from someone else, great. If they decide to kill someone to take his food, excellent. What could be better.
2. The only costs are those of transporting the prisoners to the "island" and protecting against escape. And it's so simple to guard. We ring the island with battleships. There is no contact with "the inhabitants" and so no way for unscrupulous guards to make deals, sell dope or to get hurt, for that matter. Anything in the water surrounding the island gets blown to bits. Period. Is it harsh? Didn't THEY tell US that they didn't agree with our rules? And weren't we nice enough to provide them with a venue for making their own?
3. Think of the social experiment. (Also not new; The Admirable Crichton, Lord of the Flies, Gilligan's Island!). This'll keep the sociologists busy for centuries. (Of course, if they go there to write a Ph.D. Thesis, they can never leave. Nobody leaves!)
4. The ACLU will be busy for centuries, too. Our answer to them will always be the same; "Rave on!."
The tree huggers of the world will, of course, think of a "compromise." For example, this may be OK for hardened criminals, but shoplifting? Come on. How about a less harsh arrangement for minor crimes. Sure. I'll go for that. But, all second offenders go to "the island." [Actually, "the rock" has a really nice ring to it, no?]
The reason that prisons aren't a deterrent is that they're too easy. Crime is destroying the country, if not the world. Surely, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize this? In a few years, there could be NO crime.
Think about that. No crime. You could walk down any street any time of day or night. You could leave your doors unlocked. You could pick up hitchhikers again. Your kids could walk to the corner store without getting caught in a crossfire. Smith and Wesson would be out of business.
Then we'd have the time to work on the real problems of the world; hunger, disease and devising a plan to get rid of the jerks in Hollywood who make Rambo movies.
Just a thought.
Follow-up: Brilliant or just stupid? You decide.