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.
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Having a judicial and incarceration system is a vital part of keeping a country running. Currently, the US prison system has not proved itself to be the ideal machine.Typically, prisons don’t provide much rehabilitation, and the prisoners become unproductive, and aren’t really rehabilitated. Punishments have also been called cruel and unusual, such as solitary confinement. Prisons also sell their inmates as slave labor to private companies for cheap, giving the prisoners a measly fraction of the wage. So what are some alternatives?
Community service is currently employed but only in small instances. A larger scale use would mean improving neighborhoods and giving back to communities that they might have done harm to from their offense. Building/repairing roads, general cleanup, maintain state vehicles, etc. Violent criminals may still preform duties, but only those that can be done inside prison walls.
Often when criminals get out of prison, they don’t really know what to do with themselves. Teaching a trade to inmates would make them less likely to commit a crime again and build character. Additional education and exercise would be good as well, making the prisoners spend their time bettering themselves.
Penal colonies were employed by the British Empire as a quick and easy punishment for all. Whether you were a serial killer or a petty thief, you would get shipped off to Australia and never seen again. A modern penal colony would not be as crude. A large area surrounded by walls, with guards on standby, would contain housing and necessary tools to raise crops and maintain buildings. Prisoners would have to work together in order to grow food and stay alive. While this may seem a bit extravagant and sci fi, a penal colony could provide a cheap way to effectively rehabilitate criminals.
These three ideas, or a combination of them, would be a much more humane, effective form of punishment. Community service, if applied on a large scale would give back to the neighborhood. Teaching a trade would give offenders a more viable option than crime after they get out, and a colony would be a simple, character building method to teach criminals how to behave in a structured society. These forms of punishment, as anyone can see, are by far better than sewing underwear for Victoria’s Secret.