Friday, September 24, 2010

Slaughterhouse 67

Slaughterhouse 67
END TIME: 10:08 PM

Read the following article.

What do you think about the use of constant surveillance of high-level offenders (murderers and sex-offenders) as opposed to incarceration, and do you think there is any concern over their rights to privacy while under surveillance? 

Do you think people are justified in their concern that the implementation of the technology in this context could somehow lead down a slippery slope toward totalitarian abuses on the general population?

Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive. Such conditions—and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault—typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

Clearly, the concept of prisons without walls would be hugely unpopular among the general population and the smallest systemic failure would cause an uproarious backlash. Given the previous statement from the article, how do you think the benefits of success (cost-reduction and rehabilitation) weigh against the risk of potential systemic failure (repeat offenses by those being actively monitored)? 


First off, please read the article. I'll wait right here. Thanks.

You're right when you assume that "the smallest systemic failure" wouldn't be allowed to happen. The reason it would never be allowed to happen is even the most inebriated, tweed-jacketed leftover Poli Sci hack who's barely awake in front of a lecture hall at a college that's changed names three times to avoid tax inquiries can point to an exact spot on a graph, and that graph answers the question of why we have to distinguish between George Bush Senior and Junior for the rest of our natural lives. There was no Dukakis administration because of Willie Horton.

It woiuldn't matter if you were leading offenders around with a shock collar and and armed guard, we pay people to warehouse incredibly dangerous individuals because we, as a society, have no way to deal with them. The courts rule that prison overcrowding amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The politicians who run the prisons don't care. There is no politician who gets elected by touting "an innovative approach that can get murderers to stop committing crimes" that doesn't consist of smashing rocks or receiving a lethal injection. 
A lot of people are convinced that the people in jail are too coddled. "They get cable TV and everything!" I probably entertained this thought a time or two myself, and then I worked in a jail for a year. It was there that I realized that if you have a large mass of people - and some of the units in the Clark County Detention Center have 75 inmates in a room with three guards - and you treat them as if they are worth nothing, then they will act as if they have nothing to lose. Many of the people in jail had an objective, and that objective was not to go to prison. I've spent time in the booking, medical, general population, and protective custody units of our jail (always on the law-abiding side of the counter, mind you) and you are in the overwhelming minority as a corrections officer. So the current setup of America's prisons and jails is putting the lives of those same personnel at risk. (Remember this when you read about "America's toughest sheriff" Joe Arpaio, whose guards at his tent city in Arizona are injured at a higher rate than comparable other correctional facilities. You can snicker about the green bologna and the pink underwear, but if you don't think someone's worthy of basic human dignity, chances are they won't think you are either.) So I'm in favor of anything that will keep the inmate population docile and compliant. For instance, I'd pull all the weight rooms out of all recreational facilities. Beach volleyball and step aerobics from here on out.

So while the Hawaii judge's work is interesting from a theoretical standpoint, it would work on a segment of the population that really doesn't seem to be what the public's most afraid of. The narcotics offenders in his courtroom may have been more than a few steps down the road as they made their way into the System, but ultimately they didn't sound far more harmless than the crews picking up trash along the side of the highway. They had obviously no desire to go to prison, and it was enough of a step for them to get them to continue to progress through drug rehabilitation with a far lower recidivism rate. (I can also argue that their testing and therapy, a fully funded rehab program in which they were very closely monitored, may have offered an even slightly better level of success than someone who wasn't part of the experiment could hope to enjoy or afford)I can offer a counterpoint, take the example of a gang member who's paroled for murder. He has objectives and loyalties that probably got him into fights or worse on the outside; for someone in that scenario, jail is more of a future engagement than something to be avoided at all costs. The violence that's plaguing Mexico has part of its origins in the American prison system. A murderer who's at home in the System but has an objective and can't find the way back - the anklet won't stop him.

I could also talk about the exceedingly small percentage of the population that's wearing these devices as having more to do with the gentleman's unfamiliarity with it in the family restaurant. If even the rumor of something like this occurring happened near almost any American small town, there would be more people looking at ankles in the areas nearby than an NBA trainer sees in pregame. I can't see the benefits outweighing the risks, particularly to benefit a constituency that's lost suffrage in many jurisdictions. Correctional empathy and common-sense applications may still be a long way away.

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