Enforcing laws created by the state (or, with a Direct Democracy, the people) is an indisputable, essential role of the state. How can this service be performed without creating a financial burden on the people? Critics of big government often point out that, without profit motivation, bureaucracies do a poor job of running programs efficiently. But the privatization of the prison system has triggered a boom in the prison industry. Incarceration has increased 500% in 40 years. 2.2 million people are currently in jail/prison. The cost incarceration can be as high as the cost of a university education. Recidivism rates remain high.
Half the inmates in Federal prison are in for drug offenses. Street crimes tend to be punished at a higher rate than white-collar crime, corporate crime, and environmental crime, even though these crimes can do significant damage to overall community health and wealth. Instead of incarcerating non-violent offenders, requiring them to perform community service could help bring about restorative justice. Eliminating incarceration as punishment for victimless and non-violent crimes would reduce the prison population considerably. (The increase in treatment facilities for criminally insane or for drug users has not addressed the problem. Many claim these centers are rebranded versions of the Prison Industrial Complex.)
Today, some prisoners labor for for-profit companies as part of their punishment. This form of slavery, some claim, is permitted under the 13th Amendment, which states, “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.” Critics of penal slavery note that only the people/state should benefit from penal labor, not private individuals or corporations. Furthermore, cheap prison labor should not put other workers out of a job. Instead of doing low-paid work for for-profit corporations, Inmates might work on farms to produce their own food, or food for the poor, for example, but not food or products to be sold at Starbucks or McDonald’s. Appliance repair and recycling work helps reduce the amount of garbage added to landfills every year. There are a number of industries, like repair and recycling, that are valuable to society that have disappeared because they are not profitable. Inmates and those performing community service might required to do work that will improve their own communities.