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March 31, 2010

Seeking reactions to Eastern State video and on prison as a sentencing output

Mug-set  As promised, here is a space to enable discussion of today's video about Eastern State Penitentiary and more generally about prisons as out modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website (and also this special opportunity to get your own ESP "mug-shot" mug shown here).

More broadly, I plan to start our next class together discussing whether there is a modern viable alternative to imprisonment as a default presumptive sentence for most serious crimes.  It would be great if this discussion could get a running start in the comments to this post. 

March 31, 2010 in Scope of imprisonment | Permalink


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I found your comments at the end of class quite interesting regarding how we view prisoners differently in time of war. In Northern Ireland during the 1970's prison officials and the government identified two classes of prisoners; terrorists (who self identified as political prisoners) and ODCs (which stood for "ordinary decent criminal") the usual robbers and rapists & etc.

Posted by: Brian | Mar 31, 2010 4:14:25 PM

I'm sure that we all felt the same way, so this'll probably be redundant, but I'll comment anyway:

I was horrified by the plight of female prisoners, as depicted by today's video.

I personally believe that we should be judged by how we treat the least among us, and along this line, I hope those evil people who tormented those poor women burn in hell. If this comment hurts anyone's feelings, you're too sensitive. Good luck being an attorney.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to spin a positive light with this comment, the video did remind me of what has been done with respect to addressing barbaric/evil/unfair treatment of prisoners. See generally Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)(granting prisoners a constitutional right to a basic level health care); Civil Rights legislation: Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act 42 U.S.C. §1997 et seq. (granting the authority for lawsuits on behalf of prisoners who have been subjected to egregious treatment). :o).

Posted by: Calvin Fox | Mar 31, 2010 6:44:53 PM

In terms of the practical every-day running of the prison, the main theme I got from the video was that the prison became too expensive and overcrowded: exactly the story we've been reading about in chapter 6 about prisons all throughout America. This got me thinking about the merits of adopting, prior to the abandonment of the prison system (which, to me, sounds politically impossible and, at a time of heightened economic concern, fiscally questionable), a privately-run prison system. You certainly save on cost, and the burden of inmate expansion is put on private handlers rather than the government (i.e. they have a financial incentive to build a new prison, and thus will do so). As we briefly mentioned a number of classes ago about this proposal, however, I think we are all uncomfortable with the idea of a private business actually PROMOTING the incarceration of people. But perhaps with the right limitations and restrictions, this could be a workable idea. I'm interested to hear other's thoughts on this during next week's class.

Posted by: John Hamill | Apr 1, 2010 10:51:19 AM

Private prisons already exist and, from what I've read, have been largely problematic. The problem with a private prison system is that those in charge of the prison are necessarily concerned with the bottom line and not with the safety or welfare of the prisoners. Prisons have huge overhead costs, and so, to save money the companies have to skimp on how many guards they employ, how much they pay their guards, training, space, etc. The issues that stem from these decisions are pretty glaring.

Also, these private prison companies have a lot of cash to throw around for lobbying purposes (the big one is APCTO). This impedes any existing attempts at meaningful reform and adds one more obstacle to legislators who understand the necessity of reform but can't afford to be seen as soft on crime. Ultimately, the solution to a failing prison system isn't simply to privatize it. Instead, to save money and reduce crime going forward, the answer is more likely found in many of the community-based re-entry programs, drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration. It is undeniable at this point that these services are relatively inexpensive and pay off huge dividends that the prison system cannot match (both in cost and reduced recidivism rates).

Posted by: Doug Wallach | Apr 5, 2010 12:01:22 AM

All those who advocate loosing vicious predators should have neighboring homes seized under Kelo. The released prisoners should move into these homes, sit on the porch, and stare at the little kids of these advocates walking to school in the morning, as if they were catered breakfast.

If the prisoner commits 100 crimes a year, and each destroys $5000 in economic value, the return on investment for prison is 1000% a year, guaranteed, with no risk of loss. Compare that to the damage to the economy every year a lawyer lives of around $million.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 18, 2010 11:49:52 AM

Compare that to the damage to the economy every year a lawyer lives of around $million.

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