Prisons As Hell

Before I get to today’s topic, thank you all for the thoughtful, insightful comments.  It’s always a pleasure guest hosting Bookworm’s blog because of the intelligence and thoughtfulness of her readers.  Quote of the day has to go to Lissa, “Why should we judge a society by its poorest and weakest? Why not judge it by its best, and the opportunity for the poorest and weakest to become neither poor nor weak?”  For all of its history, America has been the land of opportunity, the one place on earth poor and weak people could come to make themselves rich and strong.  In recent years, social programs have encouraged people to stay poor and weak by rewarding poorness and weakness, rather than hard work and achievement.  But the opportunities are still here to work hard and do well, for those with the strength of character to reject the invitation to permanent victimhood and dependence. 

On to today’s topic.  When I was growing up, I was taught decency and morality with a carrot and a stick — heaven and hell.  These were very real places and hell was a place you definitely did not want to go.  With the exception of fundamentalist Christians and Islamists it seems few people believe in hell as a real place any more. 

I thought of this when Sgt. Dave and others talked about reforming prisons, to make them places of punishment, places you would not want to go.  Most Americans still say they believe in God and, perhaps in some vaguely undefined heaven, but not as many believe in hell.  This has a profound effect on the way our society views life and death.  Back when we believed in heaven and hell, capital punishment was no big deal.  If we killed a woman as a witch or a man as a pickpocket and they were innocent, all we really did was hasten their entry into heaven.  Not a bad outcome, even when we were wrong. 

Today, though, if we kill someone and that person turns out to be innocent we view the matter as a great tragedy.  When life is all there is, ending life is a very big deal.  Or take war.  It used to be that there was nothing more honorable than dying for ones country or religion.  The Islamists still believe in this and are quite willing to die.  Mothers are proud to send their sons and even their daughters to kill and to die.  In the West, though, the death of a soldier is a much bigger deal.  Each death is viewed not as a noble act or a passage to heaven, but as an unmitigated tragedy, to be avoided at all costs.  The anti-war movement, with its obsessive running tabulation of the body count, cannot imagine that death in a war may be a good thing, even for the person who dies, or at worst a necessary evil that protects our society, our country and our way of life.

Of all the people who suggested ways to improve the decency and morality of our society, no one mentioned heaven and hell.  But a number of people did talk about our prisons, which, I think, reflect an ambivalence about punishment.  On the one hand, we understand that criminals need to be separated from the general population, so we stick them in prisons in record numbers.  On the other hand, we don’t treat criminals like criminals once we get them in the prisons.  For some, they are better off inside the walls of the prison than outside.  Perhaps in all our cultural relativism we’re no longer sure decency & morality are worth defending any more.

We need to return to the idea that prisons exist for more than to warehouse bad people and keep them away from the general public.  Prisons serve two other purposes — punishment and rehabilitation.  Certainly not to the extent of hell, but like hell, prisons should be places no one wants to go, ever.  They should punish prisoners for having acted indecently and immorally.  They should rehabilitate prisoners to give them the tools to succeed while acting decently and morally when they return to the general public. 

I won’t repeat all the good ideas from your comments about how to make prisons places of punishment and rehabilitation instead of comfortable wearhouses.  But let me suggest that a key starting point is reducing the number of prisoners so we can adequately deal with those who remain.  Several commenters said we have too many laws and I quite agree.  Take all victimless crimes off of the books.  What consenting adults do is nobody else’s business.  Decency and morality are about treating each other as human beings, not about controlling the private actions of others.  Shorten sentences for other less serious crimes.  If prisons really are places of punishment, it doesn’t take as long to convince prisoners that they’d better shape up because they don’t want to come back.

Prisons should have books and education programs and job skills training.  But they should have no entertainments and amusements.  Prisons should be serious places where serious people do their best to punish and rehabilitate the inmates.

Does this make sense?  Most importantly, is it politically practical?  Does our society have the strength of character and does it believe in its standards of decency and morality enough to aggressively punish those who violate those standards?  What do you think? 

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  • SGT Dave

    It is interesting you give the “carrot and stick” image. Right now the only means being used are the carrot – the stick is cruel and unusual. The courts have been reading this phrase to mean if the punishment is either cruel or unusual that it is illegitimate; they are ignoring the actual logic behind the phrasing. For a punishment to exist it must, by definition, be a sort of cruelty. The qualifying phrase is “unusual” – meaning different from the accepted norm for the prescribed crime. The death penalty is not “unusual” in a state that chooses to have one; it is the “usual” punishment for capital murder. The means of death should not be “unusual” – they are the same for all the convicted. Death, in any form, is cruel.
    The issue of character is one that will remain on the board for a generation or more; the 60’s-70’s generation (including two of my sisters, ten and eleven years my senior) does not, in my opinion, have the will, faith, or fortitude. The swing of young people to conservatism is heartening – while the numbers are not overwhelming, they are not non-existent as in previous years. The people between 25 and 40 have lived through Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush – and many of us remember Carter. The tolerance for slogan over substance is falling in the young – and many of the young are getting into their 30’s. The sherriff in Arizona comes to mind; he’s still in a job and moving forward, having defeated several attempts to define his pink jumpsuit and work camp jail as “cruel and unusual”. The trend is starting to spread and has begin, as always, in rural areas where a single criminal creates a large impact. Privately run facilities are also creating a trend towards strict confinement, because enforced rules cut down on problems, and fewer problems means more profit.
    Ultimately, this question will remain for a very long time to come. At least the powers that be have not tried to create “penal battalions” for the military similar to those of the old socialist/tyranist regimes. My Army doesn’t need that kind of help.

    SGT Dave – “All punishment is cruel; that is its purpose. Most punishments should be unusual; otherwise no one would note them.”

  • Ymarsakar

    The only way you can rehabilitate prisons is to have the victims of crime, the ones motivated about criminals in prison, rehabilitate those prisons. Otherwise, nobody will really care to do a good job.

  • Ymarsakar

    The only valid definition for cruelty in order to uphold law and society, is for cruelty to mean the purposeful infliction of pain for pleasure or just for the sake of inflicting pain.

    Punishment uses pain, but its end goal is not pain, but a change of behavior.

    Unusual would also have to apply only to waterboarding, where the technique is used as punishment only for certain individuals but not others.

    In this case, life imprisonment combined with execution is what is unusual. Because in the ancient world, you either got executed pretty quickly or they just locked you up in jail until you died naturally. There would have been no point in executing somebody if you were first going to put him in confinement for 3 decades. Unless you wanted the form of execution to be 30 years in prison, which would make that punishment cruel given that the means don’t justify the ends. There are better ways to execute someone, thus your choice to use life imprisonment is an additional and unusual choice born of cruelty. Such is not necessary to execute a person, but it is necessary to inflict pain for pain’s sake.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Great job, DQ. Thank you for the very thought-provoking stimulating discussions.

    Since this in a way continues the previous thread, I’d like to pose a question to HelenL, as I am really trying to understand the foundations of her world view. Here it is:

    There is one view of humanity, articulated by the 18th Century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, that sees human beings as born innocent but corrupted by societal and environmental influences. There is another view of humanity that sees humans as born both “good” and “bad”. Whether they turn out as “good” or “bad” in life is a product of the decisions they make.

    Where do you fall on this spectrum?

  • Helen Losse

    Danny, I got your question and will write concerning it. I will post it at my blog sometime next week. I’m not ignoring you. I just don’t plan to do this today. I will let you know it’s posted via Bookworm’s blog. (Bookworm, Hope you don’t mind. It seems you’re having a good time. Hope you return rested. Helen)

  • rockdalian

    As a Christian, I believe in the infallibility of God. That being said, God does not create evil nor evil people. God gave man free will and it is man that chooses evil. Every choice man makes is between good and evil, thus the eternal struggle. The hardest endeavor man attempts is to subordinate his will to God’s will.
    Accordingly, this view leaves little room for the “gray” areas in life. The Bible pretty well sums up how man should live.
    While I understand the urge to rehabilitate evil, the main objective should be to remove the evil from society. I am uncomfortable with educating these people for free while the law abiding pay the full load.
    I, of course, am not infallible and fall far too short of God’s ideal. This does not mean that I do not continue to attempt to live to a higher standard. The biggest mistakes in my life were committed when I did not heed God’s wisdom.
    I would have little problem educating the criminals committing lesser crimes, but draw the line at murderers. To avoid getting bogged down in details, we have prisons ranging from minimum security to super max. Ideally the rehabilitation efforts should be concentrated at the minimum level.
    And I agree that the victimless crimes should not be prosecuted.

  • Mike Devx

    I don’t think it is acceptable for our prisons to be places of punishment – if punishment is defined as the deliberate infliction of physical pain or the deliberate creation of a jail culture that can be described as worthy solely of trapped animals.

    If our jails are places where the predators themselves rule – something we often allow – and you see nothing but prisoners divided into rapists and their victims, into a thugocracy that violently enforces their rule over helpless subjects – then we can be said to deliberately create hell on earth. Would not that be evil itself – to deliberately allow such a “society” in a situation we’re supposed to have complete control of?

    A jail should be a place where all freedom is lost. Total surveillance, total control. Prisoners allowed to intermix only to the extent that they do not prey upon each other. We should provide only those activities that we believe elevate the soul and spirit: to give the heartless predators a chance to become human, so that after their sentences are served, they have a chance to come out better than when they went in. Right now I think they nearly always come out WORSE, and that can’t be a good thing for any of us.

    Not one ounce of unearned entertainment. We on the outside are free to choose demeaning or worthless entertainment. In jails they should have no such option. EVERYTHING should be focused on establishing a controlled society where the entire environment is focused on order, discipline, and the urge towards self-improvement. There’s little benefit to anything currently on TV, and exercise should not include weight room areas or team sports areas, that really serve solely as gang recruitment and enforcement areas. EVERYTHING must instead be focused on individual self improvement.

    We understand that the delinquent young can often be “saved” by sending them to military school, where order, discipline, honor and duty are the keys that lead to the saving. The jails can provide the same possibility for those who never learned how to be civilized.

    Those found to prey on other prisoners get extensions to their sentences as well as removal to even stricter confines where they cannot harm others.

  • Ymarsakar

    Punishment in this sense means that every action the state does to you in jail is going to be directly related to you as having done X out in society. When you stop doing X, life gets better. Thus you train prisoners much as you train dogs and how fake liberals indoctrinate children.

  • Danny Lemieux

    The question about Man’s nature applies equally to the question of prisons.

    If people are born innocent but corrupted by society and their environment, can you therefore “condition” people in the reverse direction – i.e., to become productive members of society (does anyone remember “A Clockwork Orange”?). If, however, people are constantly choosing between their inner angels and inner demons, how does one rehabilitate someone if they have gone over to the dark side?

    The first example suggests that the solutions are material, the second suggests that the solutions are spiritual.

  • Ymarsakar

    People make choices for reasons that they think are best or at least real, to them that is. It may not be optimum to us, for us or them, but they don’t see it that way. Thus there is a fundamental disagreement which can be solved by talking or it can be solved, in a more permanent and consistent fashion, by violence and the test of violence which on the macroscopic form is called warfare. On the microscopic, violence can be anywhere from society’s disapproval and fear of punishment from the whole of society, or a slice of society, to massive brute force approaches such as execution or what the Code Pink products produced from indoctrination and propaganda programs demonstrate. Either way, you can convince by gentle persuasion, hard core coercion and indoctrination, or simply a direct modification of behavior through efficient use of violence.

    For most people, they live under the values and society they were born in. For some others, a minority at the most, they seek something new and different, propelled by the genetic need for diversity and newness, even if it is at the risk of self-destruction of that particular genotype. And for a few scattered remnants of some defunct ancient world mentality, like the Arab tribes, the only thing that exists to them is their people. You, are not their people, and thus they can do all kinds of illegal actions that would be forbidden against one of their own.

    These themes can connect, as you can see with people born in an Islamic tribal culture that refuses to treat people outside the tribe as actual human beings deserving of equal respect or treatment. But there is a strict different to the dupes, to the people born in a society that they have no will nor particular interest in challenging, from the leaders and operators in terrorist organizations that know exactly what their society is, yet chooses to maintain and even expand the reach of that society’s control over humanity.

    In order to zealously expand your sphere of influence and your society’s reach across the human world, you must believe or understand that your system is superior to all others. The multiculturalists and decadent suicide in-waiting useful tools we call the Left and their Democrat allies no longer believe, if they ever did, that any system could be superior to everyone or even most of everyone at the same time. This sets up the specific tier of feudalism which justifies rich and luxurious benefits to the upper class of Democrats, but denies it to the poor and the disenfranchised tools of the Democrats. But in the end, it is ultimately a different way of achieving the same results as what the Islamic war against humanity has done. Which is to separate human beings into separate camps called “us” and “the enemy”. All rewards go to us and everybody else is either an obstacle, a tool, or an enemy to be destroyed. Arabs and Persians and Bedouin tribes accomplish this by believing in the righteousness of their system, in the goodness and justice of their system over and above the decadent weaknesses of us, the West. The Democrats and the Left achieve their particular nihilism and love of death by believing in the inferiority of the system that gave them birth, instead prefering to render superior that which will ultimately destroy human progress towards any future of security, prosperity, and liberty on planet Earth.

    Whether your belief is negative or positive does not really matter. All that matters is that you believe, that you believe in something strong enough that you will fight for it. Most people don’t, thus we see how bureaucracies and tyrannies self-perpetuate, like Cuba for example. If nothing happens and no new variable enters into the picture, the rule of dictators is for life. And even if you do get a person that wants to resist, there is no guarantee that person will then choose to further the cause of humanity rather than humanity’s enemies. Many Democrats and Arabs have broken through their societal conditioning. Al Qaeda would have to nullify inshallah, at least to some extent, for them to be able to organize and launch attacks instead of waiting for Allah to give victory to them just for existing. Take the examples of Zar man who got liquidated in a bombing strike on his safe house and Zawahiri. Zawahiri sees more clearly than the fanatic Zarq man what his actions were doing and producing, because Zawahiri has broken through his societal conditioning. Zawahiri chooses actions he deems best, not because Arab society says it is the will of Allah. Thus you have the difference between a strategist and a religious fanatic. But the only ones who totally break through their societal conditioning are the ones who choose to further the cause of human liberty and progression towards a better future.

    Many folks come to America already formed in mind and body, yet they adopt a particular set of values we call American. They are an example of the correct decision a person can make from breaking free of the society they were born in.

    If, however, people are constantly choosing between their inner angels and inner demons, how does one rehabilitate someone if they have gone over to the dark side?

    Nothing will make a George Soros or Al Gore turn to the light. Perhaps, not even they themselves. The necessary ingredient to making choices for yourself is that you must have free will. What you do must be of your own free will, not the will of your parents, your society, or anything else. It is a choice you make, if only a choice to obey the laws of your society and to follow the moral code of those that you love.

    What is important about this facet is that once you make a decision, free of societal restrictions or hereditary learning, to pursue the destruction of human liberty, you have already in effect destroyed much of your own free will. Because you are now consigned to repressing and distorting and killing the free will of others. Yet your own will is no longer free either, because you have chosen your purpose, and your purpose now dictates to you what shall be done. You have no choice, any longer, in the matter. You have chosen your duty and it will only end with success or your death. Very similar to the code of the samurai and the duty of military protectors. In fact, to any kind of duty you have chosen to devote your to life, it does not have to be the duty to destroy human liberty after all. It can be the duty to protect human liberty. The effects of duty on a person, if not the actual consequences, are very similar in nature. Next topic, rehabilitation.

    In order to turn around your life, you must destroy your life. You must make the conscious choice to turn away from the life you have led, in effect destroying your own philosophy that lead you to this point and turning to another philosophy. This is just like suicide, in one fashion, as it is you killing yourself to remake yourself. Both the human mind and the human body have strict controls in place to prevent such things from occuring, since genetically nature does not particularly care if you, the individual, succedes or not. Both your success and failure will prove benefits to the species in the end. So nature acquires no benefit from you changing your mind or dying in order to go to heaven. Next topic, criminal psychology.

    In most cases, criminals follow their own rules and laws, like that of the gang, because they believe it to be superior and more effective than the laws of greater society. This, in effect, is simply an extrapolation of warfare down to a smaller scale. The side that wins by demonstrating absolute power, skill, control, and victory will convince people that they had God and righteousness on their side all along. For many criminals, the only power structure they had ever seen or experienced that benefited them was the neighborhood gang and criminal enterprises. Their peers, also, whom were also gang members and career criminals.

    Thus your problem is not that criminals reject society’s laws, it is that criminals do not accept the suzerainty of our society at all. They believe their society to be superior; they believe their system to be more right and just. Just like Democrats and the Islamic war against humanity. And when you cease to believe it, when people like Bookworm and Neo Neocon cease to believe that the Democrat party is the party of righteousness and justice for all, then there is a chance of changing a person’s basic philosophy. Never until then, however.

    So one way you could get criminals to switch allegiances to demonstrate the power and ruthlessness of our society. If our rules are cumbersome and inefficient compared to the mob enforcer, then we need to compete against that enforcer and defeat that enforcer’s methods by increasing the efficiency of our own. It is the same principle in warfare. You cannot convince the other side that they must surrender to you and obey your commands until you demonstrate that you and you alone have mastery of violence and warfare.

    Humans are a stubborn breed, in the end. With a DNA template that favors striving against the inevitable, against death itself, when all seems futile. When a human being has one hope of victory, he will take it and thus resist you.

    I have said what most criminals in my view operate under. A small select few of the criminal population are what I call sociopathic. Meaning, they do not recognize any societal restrictions on themselves, neither ours or anyone else’s. They are true serial killers and murderers, out for themselves and nobody else. The mores of society, or even of the mob or the underground society, do not hold them. These are the people who can committ mass murder and enjoy it, because it justifies their existence since all societies have rejected them.

    Those people, are of course, automatically enemies of humanity. If you find one of them, the best course of action is immediate extermination of them and their like. Because while these folks abide under no morality or ethics, they can at times work together for convenience and mutual interests’ sake. Which would be an apt description of piracy and explain why pirates were tried and executed as enemies of humanity. They abided by no national law, unless they were privateers.

    Criminals respect each other and criminal organizations and syndicates more than they respect the police, because criminals know that police cannot and will not exterminate enemies of humanity. Why should criminals help the police gain status while putting criminals in jail, when the enemies of both police and thieves are running around free and treated as if they were also criminals? Enemies of humanity are not criminals. They no longer accept the validation of any society. They are not violators of civil law because they do not recognize your right to enforce any laws over them.

    Criminals are often seen as disobeying and violating the law, but they are still members of society, or a society, in the end. They still have ethics and restrictions. If they totally rejected society, what we would have would be called a revolution. Look at Cuba, France, and Russia for examples, if you need them.

    This kind of situation was often the justification for one nation declaring war on another. One nation is not looking out for the interests of the other nation, so the logical conclusion was that in oder to preserve the society of our nation, we must defeat and render invalid the society of another nation through war and conquest. The same dynamic functions between the police and the criminals.

    The only way to bring the two together would be to find a mutual enemy that both have. As seen in the example of Soviet Russia and Winston Churchill, who knew Stalin for what he really was. And also as seen in the example of the Al Anbar Awakening.

    In order to convince criminals that they have a vested interest in obeying our society and working with us, we must give them a reason to do so. We must give them a mutual enemy that we both have in common or convince them that we already have one we should work together against. And they know what our mutual enemy is, they just understand that we, operating under lawfare and police restrictions, won’t do anything permanent or effective about the megalomaniacs, rapists, killers, and serial child murderers in the end. Thus why should criminals, petty or just those that made lethal mistakes, reconcile with our society, that neither protects them nor looks out for their interests or eliminates their enemies?

    Indoctrination is a very fast way to determine whether someone really wants to belong to a society or whether he thinks no society limits him. Then using that distinction, you eliminate the enemies of humanity and acquire a very good chance of rehabilitating individuals that have now seen and been convinced by the power and efficacy of America. Are our criminals here in America any less foolish and rebellious than the Sunnis of Al Anbar? No, they are not.

    Such things can be accomplished through any number of actions: indoctrination is just one of them. Amnesty to soft core criminals and resistance fighters is another method. In the case of prisons, amnesty kind of defeats the entire purpose of prison though. Who wouldn’t agree to abide by society’s laws in order to be pardoned? And what will prevent them from killing again once free? Nothing.

    In the case of insurgents, they are already free, to an extent. Amnesty simply gives them another option, so that they are not manipulated into attacking us solely because they believe they have no choice but victory or defeat.

    Israel and Judea were also great examples of how punishment and execution, when considered unjust by the punished, has no positive effect on the behavior of Jews. The Roman Empire crucified thousands of Jewish leaders and hundreds of villages when Judea attempted to rebel against Roman might. The Jews were still at it decades later, though. Why? Because the Jews did not accept the justice of their punishment. They did not accept the right of Rome to dictate to Jerusalem where they should worship or what they should worship.

    If your society and government and laws are just, then for the most part you won’t have to care what decisions they make. Who they vote into office or what god they worship. So long as they obey the just and equal treatment under law that all voluntary members of society are under, they can do as they please. The problem is convincing people outside our society that our society is best for them.

  • highlander

    In the 1970’s a few of us taught computer programming part time to inmates enrolled in a vocational training program at San Quentin.

    Our best student had been a murderer. I don’t know the details of his crime, but he told me that the first jury to try him had deadlocked over whether to have him executed. He was a 6’4″ black man, 225 pounds with hardly an ounce of fat, and a brilliant mind with the highest score on the programmer aptitude test I’ve ever heard of.

    I was told that when he first went up to the joint, he was a wild man — totally uncontrollable. Then one night out of the blue something prompted him to ask: “Why am I causing myself all this grief? Why not make the best of it and get out of here?”

    And that is exactly what he did. He calmed down, started taking classes, and got a degree from the College of Marin. Then he completed our training program in data processing and became de facto leader of the Escue programming center which did contract programming for the State.

    Several years later I happened to be in the men’s room of the office building where I worked and noticed that the man standing beside me seemed strangely familiar. And there he was — all 6’4″ 225 pounds of him — in a three piece suit with a white shirt and rep tie. He had become data processing manager for a prestigious consulting firm down the hall from the office I was managing.

    My wife and I had dinner with him several times afterward and were happy to count him among our friends — not because it piqued us to have an ex-con for a friend,\ — but just because we genuinely liked the guy.

    The story is true, and anyone reading this who was involved in the program at San Quentin will instantly recognize the person I’ve written about. Rather than moralize, however, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

    Just let me pass on the one thing that this man told me would make the biggest difference for inmates who are motivated to reform, namely, allow inmates to wear different colored uniforms according to how well they had behaved in prior months. A really hard-core inmate, for example, might have to wear red while a well-behaved inmate might wear white, with perhaps two or three gradations for inmates in between. An inmate would move up the “ladder” of uniform colors with consistent good behavior and move down the ladder by messing up.

    At that time at San Quentin, all inmates wore prison blue, and for all I know still do. With all inmates wearing the same uniforms, it’s impossible for guards from the wall to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Because of that, there’s little incentive for an inmate to become a good guy and little reason to care.

  • Mike Devx

    Highlander says, in the midst of what I think is an excellent post:
    “Rather than moralize, however, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”

    Highlander, I’m interested in the conclusions that you drew. Would you tell us?

    It appears the fellow had a personal epiphany. This can happen to anyone, anywhere, in any walk of life, I think. Do you think it is something we can rely on as a part of our prison system?
    Do you think epiphanies such as this are something we can foster via any form of intervention in prison “society”?

  • highlander

    Thanks Mike, you ask some really good questions.

    I don’t know what causes epiphany moments like these to occur. I really wish I did, but from my experience there does seem to be something of a pattern associated with them. They seem to be a sort of “eureka” experience involving an extremely rapid series of realizations:

    First, that the situation we’re in either already is or is about to become a whole lot more unpleasant than we’d been pretending to ourselves;

    Second, that it doesn’t actually need to be that unpleasant; and

    Third, that there are some things we can actually do to get out of or avoid the unpleasantness.

    They can also happen in a positive way when we suddenly realize we have the opportunity and ability to do something significantly good.

    I don’t know, however, what initiates the sequence, but I think it would be an enormously useful discussion to have on this blog if BW or DQ would care to initiate one.

    I don’t think there is anything a prison could do to stimulate epiphanies like this among its inmates, but I think there are things they can do to increase the likelihood they will happen. Providing different colored uniforms based on behavior is one. Allowing a range of freedoms and privileges based on behavior would be another. While I’ve never visited one, I understand that military prisons do these things with pretty good results.

    Sorry, I wish I could be more helpful.

  • highlander

    As to conclusions, I’m no penologist and my experience is very limited, so I don’t feel qualified to draw conclusions, but maybe a couple of observations.

    What impressed me first was that there are so many different kinds of crimes committed by so many different kinds of people for so many different kinds of reasons. Yet we have only one way to deal with them and that’s X years in the joint.

    The prisoners in our program were, admittedly, the cream of the crop. They had been on good behavior for at least two years before entering the program and scored well on the programmer aptitude test. It seemed to me that the main reason most of them were there was because they had hung out with the wrong kinds of people. I think we underestimate the power of alliances and loyalties to groups. They’re both far stronger than the threat of punishment.

  • gkong3

    Dear DQ;

    Going back to a society that recognised clear-cut moral principles, I believe, would be a good start. However sad this is of humans, we work best when we have an unambiguous understanding of how things work (of course, as opposed to how they are supposed to work according to our wishes).

    In normal society, there is the usual give-and-take of everyday life, and a great deal of room to navigate a course, due to the various rights and freedoms every individual possesses. It is my opinion that in prison, such should not be the case. If we strictly enforce solitary confinement most of the time, clean and livable but harsh conditions, monitor every communication, and otherwise let everyone know if you do A, B happens (whether good or bad), I guess we are well on the way. Because there will always be innocent people unrightfully imprisoned, conditions should not be below a certain standard (but that standard should not be middle-class, by any means).

    As a matter of fact, most people think of the actual imprisonment as the punishment (ie being away from society is bad enough). As mentioned, this does not necessarily apply to sociopaths so we should identify these guys and kill them off quick. Depending on the severity of their crimes, of course (if it’s just petty theft, it probably isn’t a major problem).

    Most of all, though, we have lost the notion of using shame and humiliation, which has been fairly effective in the past.

  • Ymarsakar

    To understand human behavior and the effects of groups on individuals, one must understand basic human nature. The fundamentals of what makes us human.

    If you get it wrong, and many people do get the fundamentals wrong, then it would be natural for you to devalue the importance of human loyalty to groups and peers.

    Depending on the severity of their crimes, of course (if it’s just petty theft, it probably isn’t a major problem).

    Whether it is going to be a major problem or not really depends upon the individual’s actions. ANd that will be affected by his society. Changing the stimulus of any society would fit under social engineering, which not many humans are trained in. Or if they are trained in it, they don’t have the power to implement policies for it.

    Thus we have the idea of rehabilitation, as seen from the Left side of the political triangle, which only motivates youths to more violence and anti-social behavior.

    I understand that military prisons do these things with pretty good results.

    That’s because the military in existing for and fighting in wars, understand more facets of basic human nature than even politicians, who exist to manipulate human behavior and emotion. The former has to understand and perceive and predict human behavior, while the latter simply has to be able to know how to take advantage of existing human behavior.

    Thus the difference is that soldiers must know how to adapt to an environment in which the advantage could be with anyone, while politicians entrench themselves in a known environment solely to acquire and then hold their power. There is no need to maneuver or adapt to a new environment all that often for politicians. No need to think, just need to do what everyone else in power is doing. It’s very hard to innovate new politician solutions, since all of them have been tried in human history. New technology still challenges the military into re-thinking their previous views of war, however, which sharpens their ability to deal with actual human beings like at GitMo.

    In a way, the military system of doing things is truly anathema and inhumane to the Left. Since the idea of giving a person a choice to turn his life into something better and more powerful than those controlling the system is an inhumane thought anathema to Leftist philosophies.

    If nobody has free will or if their decisions are decided for their own best interests, then what is the point of using force, violence, or coercion on folks that have had their fates already decided?

  • Ymarsakar

    To address the part about prison unforms, psychology has long ago discovered how to modify behavior with very accurate results.

    It is the instant feedback loop that is key. A person has to instantly see a reward or pain as being causally connected with his action that he just took. Those people that can plan long term plans that take early risks for a greater reward in the end that they often don’t see until decades later, don’t go to prison in the first place. Those are already productive citizens of society. We don’t have to worry about those. What we do have to worry about are those folks that have been led to believe that crime is the way because crime provides immediate payouts or greater immediate payouts than our society.

    Convincing them that this is not true is not all that complex in a prison situation where the state controls the environment, according to the competency and will of the governing institution for the prison.

    Prison uniforms is a very simple immediate feedback using the visual cortix of a human brain.

    And if you can create a microscopic society in prison, which already exists, then you can modify that society and use it as an experiment to determine who in that society truly wants to belong to the non-criminal society. With instant feedback and decades in which to experiment, the true nature of a person’s desires will become very plain to the observant observer.

    Most people obey laws because they don’t want to be punished. If you can convert most of the criminal population to this kind of ethical level in prison, then you have achieved a limited sort of success. The better result would be to have individuals that follow laws because they believe those laws are just and right, that even without the pain of punishment, they would still obey certain assumed societal laws such as “do not kill or hurt a person because you don’t like him”.

    What makes this different, is obvious. Instant feedback means that if you violate a law or a rule in prison, you get punishment immediately. Not a day later, not a year, not a decade, but immediately or as soon as humanly possible, which is about 10-20 minutes. The problem is not that this can’t be done, the problem is that under any hierarchy and state bureacracy which we have to maintain our civilization and society, it is very hard to get the right decisions at the bottom in a timely manner.

    Under this kind of behavior modification, a person will go out into society and he will have a natural conditioning process that will make him resist breaking the law. He can break that condition since everyone has free will, but then again if he could break social and psychological conditioning, he likely would never have went into crime in the first place.

    This also concerns the death penalty in some ways.

    Currently, I get the impression that prisoners know that they are in prison because of the cops or the crime they did, but they don’t connect what happens in prison as being a direct result of their actions outside. Because prisons are chaotic places that the governing institution pays little attention to, other than to ensure prisoners dont’ escape or kill each other.

    THus how can any prison acquire a higher rehabilitation percentage when the prisoners do not connect the rewards or punishments in prison to their actions outside society? Back in the day, prison bosses punished prisoners on a whim, and that they didn’t turn evil people into good folks either. Now a days, when prisoners break prison laws and get punished, that’s not connected to what they did outside in society, so when these folks go outside into society, that punishment has no effect anymore on the human psyche. Creating a miniature society, however, with the immediate feedback system, lets a criminal know that they’re getting punished precisely because they do not want to belong to society. And if they don’t want to belong to society, then inevitably they will share the fate of the murderers, which they can see hanging from the prison ceilings, in one possible scenario.

  • Helen Losse

    Danny, Due to business and illness (in my home,) I will not be answering at length.

    I believe people are born in the image of God (good) and as sinners (bad, due to the fall). I think God took care of the sinner part at Calvary and that we now have a choice as to whether or not to be forgiven for our wrongdoings (sin) and to see life differently. I believe that people have many choices. I also believe both in nature and nurture as far as how people turn out. Many factors (social, psychological, and environmental) influence how a person acts (overall, not in individual instances). Personal decisions determine how we see the world but not what happens to us. That is, “the rain shines on both the good and the evil.” I know that I am one of the fortunate people who doesn’t not suffer from depression (bipolar,etc.). These diseases must affect a person’s behavior a lot. Knowing a benevolent God, I wish to be benevolent.

    I know this doesn’t answer this but right now I just don’t have the time.