prison reform

Posted: November 11, 2011 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Several months ago I gave a broad sketch on how to reduce wasteful spending and minimize political gridlock in Congress through a bold plan to reconfigure the states. None of the major presidential candidates have stepped forward to support this plan. That’s okay. Political change moves like a drunken slug. What we can do is continue offering suggestions aimed at improving things. Eventually, one of these ideas may take root. So in that optimistic spirit let’s chat about prison reform.

A segment of the criminal population festers like a pustule at the lowest sub-level of the scuzziest dungeon in the house of evolution. Remorseless murderers, sexual predators, serial killers, those bent on widespread malfeasance. (This last batch is admittedly a nebulous classification, but includes those who blow up stuff specifically to kill lots of people, send dangerous poisons through the public mail in the hopes of starting an epidemic, or commit nefarious acts of computer hackery designed to bring everything to a grinding halt. I’m sure there are others.) All of these people are the curdled cream of the crop, as it were. This proposal deals exclusively with a new way to handle these specific nimrods, the worst of the worst.

One of the objectives of prison is rehabilitation. For those offenders not fermenting in the dewy basement of humanity there is hope. But let’s face it. A person who robbed a convenience store has a far greater chance of rehabilitation than someone who chopped up neighbors and buried them in the yard. No amount of “help” is going to “fix” those people. They are hardwired in ways that cannot be changed. In East of Eden John Steinbeck wrote, “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. . . . The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?” Sounds plausible to me.

We spend lots of money housing and feeding these people while also ensuring there is no chance they can escape and wreak more havoc. When you tally up the this cost – maintaining every maximum security facility; paying administrators, guards and staff; buying food, basic necessities and other incidentals – you’re talking about a significant chunk of change. Sometimes these expenses are borne at the federal level, other times at the state level. It doesn’t matter because once it’s all summed up you’ve got a huge number popping with zeroes.

There’s another way, a way which we can significantly slash the sustenance costs while also providing these bottom dwellers with a life they’ve earned. And it’s not the death penalty; I don’t support that particular brand of justice. I’m talking about modern penal colonies.

The idea is simple. Large portions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans sit in temperate climates. We should target reasonably-sized uninhabited islands (and they do exist) which are far removed from civilization and designate them as penal colonies for the scum suckers. Based upon the size of the island it gets populated with a proportionate number of murderers, rapists and the like. In the beginning they are provided with supplies to build shelter and gather enough food to survive. Every month a supply drop is made which replenishes necessities to get through the next month. Drinking water, simple foods, clothing, first aid kits, basic meds. That kind of stuff.

The only people on the island are the ones who earned the “right” to be there. No guards, no wardens, no other civilians. Since there are no prisons and no supervision it’s entirely up to them to adapt to life in whatever manner they see fit. Maybe they’ll form some sort of hierarchical society, maybe they’ll learn to work together, maybe they’ll bash each other’s faces. It’s no longer our problem. We don’t need to worry about escape because the island is too far removed for anyone to simply build a boat and sail away. They can try, but they will fail 99.99999% of the time. The objective is not that they maim each other, but if they do they do. Think of it as Survivor Alcatraz.

I realize at its core a certain harshness surrounds this idea. These people would be cut off from friends and family for the rest of their lives. Okay, that is rough. Then again maybe they should’ve thought about that before setting a hospital on fire. Some may say this would be giving these non-deserving people freedom with a chance to build little fiefdoms of evil. It does, but if those fiefdoms are something the rest of us never have to deal with, that’s fine by me.

Aside from the monthly supply drop there are basically no other expenses. Of course additional logistical considerations must be taken into account. The location of the penal colonies would have to remain a highly guarded secret. I guess figuring out the right mix of prisoners for each island is important. I suppose some kind of mechanism should be implemented to monitor island population in order to provide the appropriate amount of supplies, but there are plenty of smart people who can figure that out. The devil may be in the details, but right now the devils are crowding our prisons and sopping up an extraordinary amount of money which could be put to better use. All the answers aren’t here, but I sure embrace the concept.

  1. It would be fine until the President’s plane crashed on the island, then we’d have to send Snake Plissken in to rescue him, oh wait, that’s the plot for Escape From New York.

    Devil’s Island off of French Guiana was a penal colony of sorts. If you haven’t seen the movie Papillon, with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, you should check it out. It’s based on a true story.

    Yes, I’m a movie fan.

    How was that for a wordy comment?


  2. John says:

    I have no idea if it would work either, but there’s a lot about the concept I like.

    Obviously. lol


  3. H.E. ELLIS says:

    Wow…I’m in awe of the sheer amount of thought put into this. I don’t know if it’ll work or if you could sell it, but hearing how it’s presented would make me want to consider the possibility were I in a position to do so. Seriously impressed.


  4. It may not be the perfect answer, but at least you are giving it thought and have investigated the possible locations. That’s more than many of our ‘leaders’ appear to be doing.


  5. whiteladyinthehood says:

    You’re so funny!! Have a great weekend!


  6. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Wow – Mr. John! I own a movie called “No Escape” (stars Ray Liota) – that’s exactly what they did in this movie..(they all went kinda Mad Max)..interesting post. I do agree that we have monsters in the world that will never be able to change..


  7. I think you are onto something, but an island is a little to escapable. So as not to throw the baby out with the bath water, stay with me here . . . the Moon or maybe Mars. Sure it would be a tough gig, but is it really any different from the penal colonies in Australia or what would become the US? Provide the basics for them to build a self-sustaining colony. Let them earn a life if they care to. If they don’t . . . its their choice.

    Just saying.


    • John says:

      I see where you’re going. The cost for an space colony would be astronomical. (ASTROnomical. Get it? Nevermind. lol)

      Although they didn’t know at the time what Australia would become, in hindsight it was too large for this sort of purpose. The island(s) I’m thinking of would relatively small and hundreds of miles from any other inhabited place. If someone wants to try to survive on a poorly made craft in the middle of the ocean, I’m willing to live with the remote possibility of escape.

      However, I believe we’re in the same ballpark.


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