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The Real Prison Industry
Opponents of the “prison-industrial complex” have been looking the wrong way.


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Jonah Goldberg

I’ve long thought the notion of a prison-industrial complex to be laughable left-wing nonsense peddled by Marxist goofballs and other passengers in the clown car of academic identity politics.

For those who don’t know, the phrase “prison-industrial complex,” or PIC, is a play on the military-industrial complex. The theory behind PIC is that there are powerful forces — capitalist, racist, etc. — pushing to lock up as many black and brown men as they can to maintain white supremacy and line the pockets of big-prison CEOs and shareholders with profits earned not just from the taxpayer but from the toil of prison-slave labor.

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Self-described “abolitionists” in the anti-PIC cause seek to get rid of prisons altogether. Indeed, they want to abolish punishment itself.

That goes for murderers, rapists, and pedophiles.

“People who have seriously harmed another need appropriate forms of support, supervision and social and economic resources,” explains the website for Critical Resistance, the leading outfit in the “abolitionist” cause. In other words, if Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky is found guilty on all counts, he doesn’t deserve prison; he deserves “support, supervision and social and economic resources.”

Personally, I think that is just bat-guano crazy.

Still, the state of our prisons has become something of a scandal. We have more prisoners today than we have soldiers, and more prison guards than Marines.

Our prisons have become boot camps for criminals. That’s one reason why I’m sympathetic to Peter Moskos’s idea to bring back flogging. A professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Moskos argues in his book In Defense of Flogging that flogging — aka the lash — is more humane than prison and much, much cheaper. He suggests that perpetrators of certain crimes — petty theft, burglary, drug dealing — be given the option of receiving one lash instead of six months in prison.

Before you shrink from the cruelty of the proposal, ask yourself which you would prefer: six lashes or three years in jail?

Moskos’s motive is to reduce the size, scope, and influence of prisons while keeping them around for the people who truly must be locked up: murderers, rapists, terrorists, pedophiles, etc. I might disagree with where he would set the ideal size of our prison population (I think incarceration rates have reduced crime more than he does), or how many lashes criminals should get, but he makes a compelling case, and his objective is reasonable.

But it’s not an objective shared by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). This was the outfit that essentially destroyed then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt to fix the state budget.



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