September 1, 2021 | View PDF
(Editor’s note: Please enjoy John Martin’s complete article here. In print, it will be a two-part series in the September and October issues.)
We can be thankful that Governor Kay Ivey’s insane proposal to build and then rent three new mega-prisons has so far bitten the dust—as it should have. But “Poison Ivey” has not yet given up. And she has not even thought about any rational solutions to end our prison overcrowding problem.
Building and filling up more gulags is a “solution” that is worse than no action at all—an “insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.” It will only exacerbate our already outrageous incarceration rate—the very highest in the civilized world. If the prison industrial complex continues much longer, we could decay into an unspeakable slave state that would make the antebellum plantations seem like Sunday picnics.
According to The Atlantic, “America spends $80 billion a year incarcerating 2.4 million people.” Vicky Peláez said that 97% of 125,000 federal inmates and 2/3rds of a million state inmates had been convicted of non-violent offenses, and that more than half of 623,000 county and municipal inmates are innocent of their charges, with most of them still awaiting trial.
How did it all start? Let’s begin with Attorney General Jeff Sessions—“a man who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it smacked him in the face.” During his tenure, even before he became a senator, he pulled out many of the constitutional stops to prevent innocent people from being arrested and imprisoned for lengthy periods for minor infractions, including what rational people recognize as victimless crimes. That includes poor people unable to pay fines and penalties imposed by the state. And of course, he was a staunch advocate of the “war” against drugs.
In past decades before about 1970, prisons were used to contain dangerous criminals. Today, they have become mass punishment to generate profits from unfortunate people for violating minor regulations and mandates.
John Whitehead says: “Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has been operating as a for-profit enterprise for years now, covertly padding its pockets through penalty-riddled programs aimed at maximizing revenue rather than ensuring public safety. All of those seemingly hard-working police officers and code-enforcement officers and truancy officers and traffic cops handing out ticket after ticket after ticket: they’re not working to make your communities safer—they’ve got quotas to fill.”
And that’s not all. “In the late 1980s, Missouri became one of the first states to let private companies purchase the probation systems of local governments. In these arrangements, municipalities impose debt on individuals through criminal proceedings and then sell this debt to private businesses, which pad the debt with fees and interest.” Our state and local governments have essentially become predatory lenders. That is why Kay Ivey’s proposal for profitable prisons is so hideous.
So what should we do to stop this tragedy? Let’s start with ending the so-called “war” on drugs. Like prohibition in the 1920’s and early ‘30’s, it has been a catastrophic tragedy. And unlike prohibition, which lasted only about 13 years, the drug war has been underway since the early 1970’s and is still ongoing.
Why are the drug cartels so powerful and dangerous? It’s not because of lax drug enforcement; it’s just the opposite—excessive enforcement. The big drug lords can bribe themselves out of trouble by ratting on their smaller competitors, and in the process, protect their monopolies, drive up prices, and enhance their profits.
Why don’t we just decriminalize all drugs, even the dangerous ones? That sounds insane at first, but it is probably the only way to save our civilization from collapsing into the ultimate slave state.
What would happen if we did that? At first there might be a painful breaking in period. Very likely, some of the “junkies” might overdose on the much cheaper drugs. But let them do that. It’s their bodies, their right, and their
responsibility as free Americans. The state is not supposed to be their nanny. Actions between consenting adults should be left strictly alone. After a few deaths, they will quickly wise up as they begin to understand the danger. Before we had a drug war, parents were responsible for instructing their children how to avoid doing foolish things. Avoiding poisons and drugs should be no different.
If drugs were cheap and plentiful, the drug lords would be unable to make their profits. They would soon be out of business. They would not have the incentive to “hook” innocent people onto dangerous drugs. Drug users would no longer have to rob people and commit other crimes to support their habits. Also, as time goes on, foolish drug usage will diminish as people understand the health risks (just like smoking cigarettes is diminishing right now).
The challenge of illegal thrill-seeking will cease to exist. This means fewer drug addicts and saving billions of tax dollars.
Law enforcement people agree that about half of our prison population is there because of possessing, making, transporting, buying, and selling “controlled substances.” Stopping the drug war alone would cut our prison populations by half, or more.
And we don’t need to stop there. Another big problem we have is imprisoning people for indebtedness and victimless “crimes.” We have tons of offenses on the books that have no actual victims.
Debtors’ prisons have been outlawed since 1833—almost two centuries ago. But today, numerous peaceful people are still sent to the slammer for tax “evasion,” fines, fees, court costs, penalties, traffic citations, and other debts they are unable to fulfill. While they are locked up, they are prevented from earning any means to pay them. Meanwhile, interest and penalties mount up, pushing restitution beyond any hope. In the end, a single minor infraction destroys an entire family’s livelihood.
Drugs, prostitution, pornography, accidents, code violations, “indecent exposure,” open beer containers, and many other counterproductive mandates, rules, regulations and statutory “crimes” against the state are not valid or enforceable in a free society. If a “crime” lacks a legitimate victim, it is not a crime.
To be a genuine crime, the offense must have been a violation of an actual human being. It must have caused either bodily harm and / or a loss of property. It must also have been a willful, deliberate, and unprovoked act. Examples of genuine crimes include terrorism, rioting, murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping, hijacking, extortion, burglary, home invasion, breaking and entering, looting, vandalism, arson, and, of course, theft. It would NOT be self-defense or a bona fide accident where no willful malice was involved.
Indebtedness does involve victims. But imprisonment is never a solution; it does nothing to pay the debts. It only costs the taxpayers additional tons of money to house, feed, and guard them while denying them the time and freedom to earn money to pay their creditors, as well as support themselves and pay taxes. It is cruel, inhumane, and counterproductive.
What about victimless “crimes”? These include recreational drugs, gambling, prostitution, “indecent” exposure, streaking, “jaywalking,” price “gouging,” ticket “scalping,” selling raw milk, assisted suicide (remember Jack Kevorkian?), working without a “license” or “permit,” possessing a sawed-off shotgun or fully automatic rifle, even being a few minutes late when coming to court. There should never be charges or penalties for any of these.
Another unfortunate fact about prisons is that they rarely if ever convert criminals into peaceful, honest citizens. They do just the opposite. Vicious hard-core inmates coerce or force newcomers into performing risky drug deals and other serious crimes. In essence, prisons are schools where inmates teach each other how to be bigger and more dangerous criminals.
Prison life can be horribly cruel. A prison is no place for the “weak,” meek, peaceful, and innocent. New inmates are quickly “tested” for signs of weakness, and any unfortunate enough to lack the will and strength to defend themselves against aggressors will be thereafter relegated to indecencies ranging from having food and personal items routinely taken by other inmates to becoming their “girls” and being homosexually raped again and again. Homosexual rape is almost nonexistent on the outside, but in prison, it is so commonplace, it never makes the news. Meanwhile the guards and other staff show no interest in stopping inmates from abusing others. In prison, it’s “the law of the jungle” every day. People who strive to avoid trouble and turn the other cheek are not tolerated by prisons’ general populations. While many animal lovers whine about people being cruel to their animals, they seem to care little or nothing about cruelty suffered by other humans.
Just how cruel? Read this comment from retired Huntsville nurse, Paul Noel: “The US Prisons are dominated close to 80% by racist gangs, largely the Bloods and the Crips. If you want to stay alive in prison and you are white, you best join the skinheads or just give up and die. I have worked in a prison and I know what is going on.”
How do we deal with the cruelty? Try to minimize it if possible. If the department of corrections wants to correct anybody, it must first stop the violence and abuse. And quit trying to stop suicides. If an inmate cannot tolerate his abuse, he should at least be allowed his right to end his suffering ASAP.
Better yet, provide voluntary nitrogen asphyxiation, which the state has already approved for executions.
Who should actually be in prison? The obvious answer is people too dangerous to be turned loose. The really bad ones like terrorists, brutal rapists, and murderers should be promptly executed—not more than a month after a speedy trial and conviction. Vandals and chronic thieves should spend ample time behind bars, but they should also be allowed to earn money and fully pay back their victims (two times the damages) in exchange for ending their sentences upon completion. Minor thieves could be required to provide full restitution without incarceration, provided they actually do it.
A special treatment might be the best choice for rapists and violent sex offenders—castration. It can be done with either surgery or by banding the scrotum as is routinely done with cattle. The offender would remain locked up for about a month for his hormones to adjust. He could then be released. Once castrated, he would not likely retain enough aggression for more sex violations. He would be able to become a normal, productive citizen.
We do NOT need to build more prisons. If we subtract the people who do not belong there—which is probably about three quarters or more—there will be ample space in the ones we already have. We might spend a modest amount on upgrades, but a huge new system is utterly crazy. All jails and prisons must be publicly owned and operated. Selling inmates’ debts to private companies must be stopped.
We should strive to keep people out of prison as much as possible. We should NEVER make prisons profitable. It incentivizes locking up people for trivial “offenses.” It wastes the taxpayers’ time and money, and it is CRUEL. Profiteering from mass incarceration is one of the most hideous crimes anyone could imagine.
1. Whitehead, John W., A Tale of Two Americas: Where the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Go to Jail, January 5, 2018
2. Gornoski, David, Top Detective Blows Whistle on Drug War, Prison System, February 2, 2018.
3. Lora Manuel, Victimless Crimes are Crimes against the State, May 9, 2006.
4. Noel, Paul, How come there is very little rivalry amongst racist and white supremacist street and prison gangs?, July 17, 2021
5. Peláez, Vicky, The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?, February 24, 2019.