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We're offering banner ads on our site from just $5! # The United States Prison Industrial Complex. Old topic! Guest, the last post of this topic is over 60 days old and at this point you may not reply in this topic. If you wish to continue this conversation start a new topic. 78 replies to this topic ### #41AndyEsser GDNet+ - Reputation: 386 Posted 02 June 2011 - 05:52 AM If you don't want to go to prison, don't break the law. What a concept... 1 in 100 citizens of the United States being in prison doesn't bother you? Doesn't such a large proportion strongly suggest that US laws are too harsh and are not a good solution to the social ills the country suffers from? What happened to liberty? What happened to the idea that the United States is a country that values freedom? The thing that bothers me is the number of people in this thread getting 'Thumbed Down' for implying that this is the prisoners fault, and not the law. The law is there, it's an absolute, and it's designed to protect those values of freedom and liberty. Criminal behaviour is not an absolute, not a constant. It is someone's choice to commit a crime, and they should be punished accordingly. Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. Sponsor: ### #42forsandifs Members - Reputation: 154 Posted 02 June 2011 - 06:02 AM Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. Would be? That's actually what happens. And apparently its not a fantastic deterrent because 1% (and rising) of your population is in jail! The double thinking and blinkering people employ to justify their standpoints, no matter how misguided, never ceases to appall me. ### #43AndyEsser GDNet+ - Reputation: 386 Posted 02 June 2011 - 06:06 AM Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. Would be? That's actually what happens. And apparently its not a fantastic deterrent because 1% (and rising) of your population is in jail! The double thinking people employ to justify their standpoints, no matter how ridiculous, never ceases to amaze me. Let me rephrase: Would be an better deterrent. Ok, let me ask you this: Are you a law-abiding citizen? ### #44forsandifs Members - Reputation: 154 Posted 02 June 2011 - 06:22 AM Let me rephrase: Would be an better deterrent. Ok, let me ask you this: Are you a law-abiding citizen? No offense but I think I actually heard your brain collapsing there. ### #45Hodgman Moderators - Reputation: 31144 Posted 02 June 2011 - 07:40 AM The thing that bothers me is the number of people in this thread getting 'Thumbed Down' for implying that this is the prisoners fault, and not the law. Is anyone implying that in general it's not the prisoners fault? Let's assume that every prisoner in jail is there because they're a bad person and they deserve it. Working from that basis, how do we come to terms with the fact that 1 in 4 prisoners worldwide, are in American prisons? If we stick to our first assumption, there must be something in America that incites more people to commit crimes then, right? If we break the first assumption (some prisoners don't belong there), then we can shift some of that blame onto an overzealous legal system. The correct answer to why 1 in 4 prisoners are in American jails is probably a mixture of the two -- something causing above average crime, and something causing above average incarceration rates. Do you have any thoughts on what those "something"s are? What makes America special as to have such an above average number of prisoners (overwhelmingly above average compared to other western states)? Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. The only way to measure that is to see if shoplifting ceases. Meanwhile, how many lives are you willing to destroy (locking someone away for 25 years is comparable to ending a life) to try that idea out and see if it works? (hint: it doesn't) What if there are mitigating circumstances, such as when the shoplifter is the child of a addict and consequently have no food, so they steal to eat? ### #46AndyEsser GDNet+ - Reputation: 386 Posted 02 June 2011 - 07:55 AM What if there are mitigating circumstances, such as when the shoplifter is the child of a addict and consequently have no food, so they steal to eat? Without sounding like a complete and utter idealist - that's what a welfare system is for. ### #47way2lazy2care Members - Reputation: 782 Posted 02 June 2011 - 07:56 AM The only way to measure that is to see if shoplifting ceases. Meanwhile, how many lives are you willing to destroy (locking someone away for 25 years is comparable to ending a life) to try that idea out and see if it works? (hint: it doesn't) What if there was mitigating circumstances, like they're the child of a addict and consequently have no food, so they steal to eat? Who is really destroying the life though? In the end there is only one person at fault. there is a moral grey area with your example, but does being in a moral grey area excuse you from the law? If you're a starving child of an addict you can always be reported to child protective services instead of turning to robbery. ### #48Amaz1ng Members - Reputation: 131 Posted 02 June 2011 - 08:05 AM there is a moral grey area with your example, but does being in a moral grey area excuse you from the law? If you're a starving child of an addict you can always be reported to child protective services instead of turning to robbery. Some people just don't know... The justice system should do more to differentiate those that are just hopeless criminals and those that simply made a mistake or need some guidance. http://innercirclegames.freeforums.org Email me at: innercirclegames@hotmail.com ### #49Hodgman Moderators - Reputation: 31144 Posted 02 June 2011 - 08:11 AM Regarding the war on drugs (the massive spike in the graph on the previous page): http://content.usato...gs-has-failed/1 What if there are mitigating circumstances, such as when the shoplifter is the child of a addict and consequently have no food, so they steal to eat? Without sounding like a complete and utter idealist - that's what a welfare system is for. Apparently it doesn't work -- otherwise there wouldn't be such an above average crime rate, right? Either that, or crimes of necessity / crimes due to upbringing don't exist in a significant percentage? If welfare indeed is the answer, maybe some spending on social justice needs to be redirected to spending on social welfare, which would indirectly also help with providing justice in the long run, no? Perhaps if inequality was addressed, then crimes would be prevented, meaning you no longer require as much investment in "correctional facilities"? What's your explanation for the 1 in 4 statistic? Who is really destroying the life though? In the end there is only one person at fault. If that's true, then what is it about Americans that makes them so much more likely to be at fault in this way? What's the root cause? Shouldn't this cause be sought out and corrected so that the US can function like a regular western state? ### #50way2lazy2care Members - Reputation: 782 Posted 02 June 2011 - 09:00 AM Who is really destroying the life though? In the end there is only one person at fault. If that's true, then what is it about Americans that makes them so much more likely to be at fault in this way? What's the root cause? Shouldn't this cause be sought out and corrected so that the US can function like a regular western state? I will agree that there is a problem, but I think the problem is not the justice system rather the environment we are providing for our children. Freakonomics actually has some interesting points on it related to the legalization/illegalization of abortion being directly proportional to crime rates 15-20 years later. I don't really agree with abortion, but the stats don't lie. The justice system itself though is not as harsh as it is painted by the numbers. It is kind of put in a situation where it has no choice but to look harsh because there are just more criminals. ### #51forsandifs Members - Reputation: 154 Posted 02 June 2011 - 09:53 AM The justice system itself though is not as harsh as it is painted by the numbers. It is kind of put in a situation where it has no choice but to look harsh because there are just more criminals. How is a life sentence for getting caught shopfliting 3 times not harsh? How is the stuff I linked earlier in the article http://www.lewrockwe.../roberts43.html not harsh? How is arresting, detaining and convicting pre-teen children for writing on desks or misbehaving in schools not harsh? ### #52Khaiy Crossbones+ - Reputation: 1342 Posted 02 June 2011 - 09:59 AM The law is there, it's an absolute, and it's designed to protect those values of freedom and liberty. Criminal behaviour is not an absolute, not a constant. It is someone's choice to commit a crime, and they should be punished accordingly. Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. Unless the crime in question is something like drug possession charges, which is a non-trivial portion of the prison population. Laws about that seem designed to inhibit liberty even if there's no harm to others (or, arguably, to the user). The law isn't absolute at all. The legislature, and to an extent the justice system itself define laws. Morphine used to be legal to buy over the counter, now it isn't. It used to be legal to own a person and beat them to death if they made eye contact. Now it isn't. Societies decide what behaviors they want to allow and criminalize those that they want to prohibit. They use a variety of criteria to determine what falls into which category, but legality is always a matter of decision, not of inherence. For example, 60 years ago interracial marriages were illegal in much of the US. How did that protect freedom? What possible rationale could justify that? Things that sound like good deterrents aren't necessarily so. The death penalty sounds like a great deterrent, but statistically it has been shown not to be much of one. I couldn't find the full treatment online (I know that there's one in Freakonomics), but this might be enough to show that I'm not just shooting my mouth off for now. There's been quite a bit of debate about whether or not simply making penalties harsher has much deterrent effect. I won't wade into it now, but there's enough contention that I think it logically hazardous to claim that stricter penalties will necessarily net a worthwhile reduction in crime. Without sounding like a complete and utter idealist - that's what a welfare system is for. Spoken by someone whom I can only assume hasn't had much interaction with the welfare system. There has been a steady trend criminalizing poverty itself for some time. And the welfare system is complicated, inefficient, highly variable by state, and often not able to alleviate circumstances of poverty on its own anyhow. The justice system itself though is not as harsh as it is painted by the numbers. It is kind of put in a situation where it has no choice but to look harsh because there are just more criminals. As I mentioned above, the justice system has a huge impact on what people are criminals (even though laws are made by the legislature, they are administered with quite a bit of discretion by courts, and can ultimately be reviewed by the Supreme Court). See above, where I touch on how arbitrarily people can be defined in and out of the "criminal" category. And that doesn't just apply to the raw number of crimes comitted. Sentencing is a huge part of things as well. Remember just over a year ago, when someone selling crack cocaine would get the same sentence as someone selling 100 times as much poweder cocaine? That's an extremely harsh disparity, and one that is difficult to justify. The new standard is something like an 18:1 ratio for crack to powder. Whether or not that ratio is appropriate can be debated, but it's definitely going to be more definsible than 100:1. There are a lot of competing factors in how a society will separate criminal from non-criminal acts. The better way is to look at practical matters-- what costs does a crime impart to society, what kinds of measures would be effective in reducing occurrence of those crimes, how much do they cost, etc. It's also easier (or at least possible) to review these to assess the efficacy of the law. A worse way is to try and use moral standards. They can be difficult to agree on broadly, make assumptions about the benefits to society that are difficult to quantify, and tend to view cost as a secondary concern. Look at prohibition (1920's style). It was expensive, didn't really deliver any benefits to society, couldn't be effectively enforced, and spawned a series of highly undesirable consequences. Assumptions about criminality or any kind of absolute faith in the justice system are extremely undesirable given these concerns. They make it incredibly difficult to assess the costs and benefits of criminalizing certain behaviors, make it very easy to enforceme moral concepts without being much bothered by data, invite rampant propoganda (whether to compensate for a lack of data or refute it), and make it hard to re-allocate resources when existing practices end up not being very effective. A dollar spent on enforcement or punishment which is not effective is a dollar which can't be spent on something that might be. ### #53tstrimple Prime Members - Reputation: 1725 Posted 02 June 2011 - 10:06 AM Being sent to prison to 25 years for being stupid enough to be caught shoplifting etc, three times would be a fantastic deterrent. The only way to measure that is to see if shoplifting ceases. Meanwhile, how many lives are you willing to destroy (locking someone away for 25 years is comparable to ending a life) to try that idea out and see if it works? (hint: it doesn't) What if there are mitigating circumstances, such as when the shoplifter is the child of a addict and consequently have no food, so they steal to eat? It amazes me how people focus on this isolated incident where a ship-lifter gets hit with three strikes. This is FAR from the norm. It requires three felony convictions to qualify for three strikes sentencing, not three of any crime. If someone had just shoplifted three times, there is no way they would be sentenced to life in prison. In the example that was used earlier in the thread, the person had previous felony convictions, and in the state of California if you are caught stealing and you have a prior record for stealing, it is up to the judge to decide whether it is a felony or misdemeanor. This was by no means someone who was just caught shoplifting three times, he had a long wrap sheet that covered things from burglary and transporting drugs to escaping a federal prison. That being said... I would much rather three-strikes only apply to violent offences, and definitely not drug charges. The "War on Drugs" has done nothing but give criminal organizations more money and power. It has not seriously impacted the ability for Americans to buy illicit drugs, just makes it more likely that whatever they are taking is cut with something that could be even more dangerous than if these drugs were legal. ### #54forsandifs Members - Reputation: 154 Posted 02 June 2011 - 10:20 AM It amazes me how people focus on this isolated incident where a ship-lifter gets hit with three strikes. This is FAR from the norm. It requires three felony convictions to qualify for three strikes sentencing, not three of any crime. If someone had just shoplifted three times, there is no way they would be sentenced to life in prison. In the example that was used earlier in the thread, the person had previous felony convictions, and in the state of California if you are caught stealing and you have a prior record for stealing, it is up to the judge to decide whether it is a felony or misdemeanor. This was by no means someone who was just caught shoplifting three times, he had a long wrap sheet that covered things from burglary and transporting drugs to escaping a federal prison. And it amazes me how emphatically someone can state something erroneous and without looking at the evidence. Leandro Andrade was hit with the three strikes law precisely because he was a serial (though non-violent) thief. If he hadn't been caught stealing twice before he would have recieved the usual shoplifting sentence of a few years. Please see for yourself, http://www.cbsnews.c...ain527248.shtml . And certainly not an isolated incident. Please also see the following cases. Gregory Taylor - Third strike: Attempted burglary for trying to break into a Los Angeles church to steal food in 1997. - Previous strikes: Two robberies. Jerry Dewayne Williams - Third strike: Petty theft for stealing a slice of pepperoni pizza in Redondo Beach in July 1994. - Previous strikes: Robbery and attempted robbery. - EDIT: this particular case was later succesfully appealed and the sentence reduced. But nevertheless it happened and the harsh law allows for that possibility. ### #55Khaiy Crossbones+ - Reputation: 1342 Posted 02 June 2011 - 10:57 AM Displaying two additional instances where the system didn't work (which I suppose is arguable in these cases, though I would tend to agree with you on them) does not really counter tstrimple's argument that such situations are a minority of cases. Whether or not that is actually the case, I don't know. No system will ever be perfect. There will be mistakes and exploitations, even outright corruptions. It is not reasonable to point to a handful of such situations and declare that the system is valueless. The question isn't whether or not a system or practice has ever failed, but rather how its overall efficacy weighs against its costs (in terms of dollars, opportunity costs, societal effects, and the cost of the inevitable failures). There is then a related question of whether or not the society in question can afford those costs, independant of the results of that system. In the case of three strike policies, my opinion is that they would not pass this test even if there were no questionable applications, and so they would be candidates for repeal or at least very serious reform anyhow. This is much more relevant than trotting out a couple of arguable misapplications which, were the policy effective in its stated intent, might pale in comparison to the benefits it produced. When you have analyses like this and this, the value of re-allocating the resources used to fund such a program is far more compelling than talking about convicted criminals, who were perhaps not criminal-y enough to be snared by a program that would still be a poor bargain, even if they were bad enough to be unequivically deserving of three strikes. Especially if you're California. Even if three strikes worked well, CA may not be able to afford it at present. ### #56way2lazy2care Members - Reputation: 782 Posted 02 June 2011 - 11:39 AM And it amazes me how emphatically someone can state something erroneous and without looking at the evidence. Your evidence is pretty anecdotal. The three strikes laws vary by state as well as the classification of every crime. Occasionally burglary is just a misdemeanor, but I really think you are playing down burglary with your example. Any burglary/breaking and entering no matter how small is a HUGE invasion of privacy and can traumatize people immensely. Sure they were hungry people just looking for food, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. There is a reason there are pretty exact definitions for all the different types of theft. ### #57way2lazy2care Members - Reputation: 782 Posted 02 June 2011 - 11:50 AM When you have analyses like this and this, the value of re-allocating the resources used to fund such a program is far more compelling than talking about convicted criminals, who were perhaps not criminal-y enough to be snared by a program that would still be a poor bargain, even if they were bad enough to be unequivically deserving of three strikes. Especially if you're California. Even if three strikes worked well, CA may not be able to afford it at present. The cause is somewhat twofold. The problem isn't JUST that we are incarcerating repeat offenders longer, but also that we have more repeat offenders. Is the solution to stop incarcerating repeat offenders as harshly or to try to decrease the number of repeat offenders? A significant issue is that any solution dealing with the latter probably won't take significant effect for 20 years. ### #58forsandifs Members - Reputation: 154 Posted 02 June 2011 - 12:24 PM Displaying two additional instances where the system didn't work (which I suppose is arguable in these cases, though I would tend to agree with you on them) does not really counter tstrimple's argument that such situations are a minority of cases. Whether or not that is actually the case, I don't know. I was countering his statement that it was an isolated incident. But now you mention it I'll counter the argument that such situations are a minority of cases. Evidence has been presented in this thread that at least half of Americans in prison are in for non-violent crimes. By extension, and unless evidence is presented to the contrary (evidence I haven't been able to find), we can assume that about half of three-strikes are also due to non-violent crimes. ### #59Moe Crossbones+ - Reputation: 1248 Posted 02 June 2011 - 12:55 PM So, I have a question - would repealing the 3-strikes rule really have that much of a difference on the percentage of the population who is (or will be) incarcerated? In other words, what is the percentage of the currently incarcerated population that is there because they are indeed criminals who have no desire to be reformed? ### #60Khaiy Crossbones+ - Reputation: 1342 Posted 02 June 2011 - 01:44 PM The cause is somewhat twofold. The problem isn't JUST that we are incarcerating repeat offenders longer, but also that we have more repeat offenders. Is the solution to stop incarcerating repeat offenders as harshly or to try to decrease the number of repeat offenders? A significant issue is that any solution dealing with the latter probably won't take significant effect for 20 years. Of course we shouldn't just not jail repeat offenders. But there's no denying that incarceration is expensive, nor that there's a fairly high rate of recidivism (though again, that varies by crime). It's all well and good to get criminals off of the streets (especially dangerous ones), but you also can't pretend that that experience stops them from offending again. So you end up stuck in a situation where you pay$X to reduce crime for a set period, and can estimate the percentage of crime you will re-introduce to an area if you stop spending that money. You can even break that down by type of crime if you want, to more precisely estimate the cost of reducing the crime rate by incarceration. So you end up with a number that describes at least roughly how much society pays (in dollars) for every reduction of crime caused by repeat offenders being in jail.

I don't know that number, but whatever it is I would imagine that building more prisons to accomodate more prisoners is going to be an expensive investment. And anything that reduces the recidivism rate (or otherwise reduces the crime rate) will reduce the value of that investment for its shareholders (now the companies that own the prisons), even though it produces value for society and for taxpayers.

It's that mismatch of incentives that troubles me. Even with three strikes, the US incarceration rate has increased despite a drop in crime rate, and recidivism doesn't explain that at all. We're investing in prisons and the industry of imprisonment, paying something like $60 per offender per day to keep our crime rate low, and we know that there's no long term benefit to this investment. It only works immediately and as we continue to pay. And that would suit the prison industry just fine. Even if we leave today's prison budget as it is, there's absolutely no reason not to invest in anything that might reduce the need for those prisons against their future costs. And if we can accept that, strikes and recidivists aside, some people don't need to be in jail to protect society (like non-violent drug offenders, for example), we can use the money that we would have spent jailing them to try and reduce recidivism for more serious criminals. At the rate linked above, if we kept 100 such low-to-no-harm offenders out of prison, that's ~$6.24 million that can be allocated elsewhere-- like to trying to reduce recidivism.

Even if reducing the recidivism rate will take a while, prison is too expensive not to make the attempt. It certainly sounds like a better investment to me than building ever more prisons while the crime rate continues to fall.

I was countering his statement that it was an isolated incident.

But now you mention it I'll counter the argument that such situations are a minority of cases. Evidence has been presented in this thread that at least half of Americans in prison are in for non-violent crimes. By extension, and unless evidence is presented to the contrary (evidence I haven't been able to find), we can assume that about half of three-strikes are also due to non-violent crimes.

On a national (or even statewide) scale, three incidents aren't much less isolated than one. You will never get to a statistically significant number of such cases presenting them one at a time. If you present statistics, you've presented evidence. If you present a story, you've presented a story, whether the conclusion you draw from it (or them) is accurate or not.

And I don't think that you can extend the non-violent crime statistics that way. First, the point that tstrimple was making is about people three-striked for petty crimes, not non-violent ones. It might still make sense to get a strike against you if you're a national-level heroin dealer, after all.

Second, you can only make that extension if strikes are evenly distributed among the prison population (or would be, if strike laws were consistent and present in all locations). This may be the case, and is especially likely to be if strikes are given out freely, even for petty crimes. But it's a big assumption to make that all crimes are essentially equal, and if you want to posit it then it's on you to demonstrate that those conditions are true.

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