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November 27, 2011

"The Real Prison Industry"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary by Jonah Goldberg over at Townhall.com. Here are excerpts:

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....

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....

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' 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....

Moskos' 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-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to fix the state budget. In a state where more than two-thirds of crime is attributable to recidivism, CCPOA has spent millions of dollars lobbying against rehabilitation programs, favoring instead policies that will grow the inmate population and the ranks of prison guard unions. In 1999, it successfully killed a pilot program for alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. In 2005, it helped kill Schwarzenegger's plan to reduce overcrowding by putting up to 20,000 inmates in a rehabilitation program. It opposes any tinkering with the "three strikes law" that might thin the prison rolls.

According to UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian in a illuminating paper for The American, "America's Public Sector Union Dilemma," California's corrections officers have exploited their monopoly labor power to push policies that will expand the prison population and, as a result, the demand for more guards who just happen to be the best-paid corrections officers in the country. That's why, contrary to what the Marxist sages would expect, they've successfully kept privately run prisons out of the state.

Meanwhile, incarceration costs in the essentially bankrupt state are exploding. California spends $44,000 per inmate, compared with the national average of $28,000. A state prison nurse exploited overtime rules to earn $269,810 in one year.

Also contrary to left-wing expectations, these policies have been implemented not so much by the hard-hearted captains of industry and their Republican lackeys, but by a Democrat-controlled state legislature lubricated with donations from a powerful public-sector union....

Still, I suppose I owe the folks in the clown car at least a small apology. They're still nuts, but they're right about the existence of a prison-industrial complex. They were just looking in the wrong direction.

November 27, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Permalink


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And I thought that Bill Otis was bad about inventing fictional, non-existent leftist strawpeople to battle.

I wouldn't really call this screed notable or even commentary - its more an unintentionally hilarious example of what happens when the right wing impulse to blame unions for everything bad in America including afternoon and evening thunderstorms collides with the "must support tough on crime" impluse. What a mess - and more proof that being barely coherent does not disqualify one from being a right wing "pundit"

Posted by: virginia | Nov 27, 2011 12:26:15 PM

oh I forgot the most glaring trait present in this screed - the child like faith in the "free market" system - that if those mean unions and government bureaucrats would just get out of the way of private enterprise and let The Magic Free Enterprise Fairy go to work - that we would have a wonderful prison system that only holds the worst of the worst offenders and provides wonderful programs to rehabilitate prisoners and assure that they never enter the system again.

The similarity to Linus Van Pelt sitting in the pumpkin patch waiting for The Great Pumpkin to appear if he is only sincere enough is very similar (and the Santa Claus myth might be even more fitting). Unfortunately for conservatives, The Magic Free Enterprise Fairy, like The Great Pumpkin is a fictional character that does not exist.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 27, 2011 1:01:42 PM

"inventing fictional, non-existent leftist strawpeople to battle."

You took the words right out of my mouth.

What gets my goat is the whole lets do flogging thing. You know what's really cheap: not passing so many damn laws. The truth is that the PIC not only depends on the unions for support but it's underpinning is in conservatives moral preening. To me flogging gets to the heart of what conservatives are all about these days: bow to my god or I'll beat the crap out of you.

The one good thing about the PIC is that it makes conservatives actually pay money for their preening. The fact that a lot of this money went to fund a union is one of the sweet ironies of life.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 27, 2011 1:19:40 PM

daniel: "To me flogging gets to the heart of what conservatives are all about these days: bow to my god or I'll beat the crap out of you"

me: I disagree - to me, the conservatives want to have beating as punishment - whether it is flogging adults as punishment for a crime, paddling children in school, spanking children at home, or beating their wives - for two primary reasons.

1) Especially in the case of flogging and punishment for a crime and paddling in school, it satisfies their inate racism which has the goal to bring back the social system which existed during slavery. That is a system based upon White Supremacy where flogging was used to keep Blacks - and dissodent Whites in line. They know full well the slavery based connotations of using the whip and they fully embrace it because they are upset that they are too young to miss the days when they could just pick some random slave to whip. Flogging as punishment for a crime enables them to get a substitute.

2) Because they are sexual perverts who repress their sexuality. In public, they not so secretly long for the days when they could take their wives over their knees and spank them for not having dinner ready when they get home. That is using socially - for conservatives at least - acceptable sexism to disguise their real thrill which is sadism. In private, it is probably because they are not only repressed sadists but also repressed homosexuals who while they may be talking about beating women wish that they were really beating men. Hence, the idea to bring back flogging - because they get a sexual thrill out of the idea of beating other men but refuse to acknowledge that they are gay sadists who do not want to admit it.

People who do not repress their sexuality and do not try to make everyone else repress their sexuality know that there are many people for which a flogging is not punishment at all. They also see the obvious sexual - and slavery - connotations to the desire to bring back flogging (and more disturbingly to bring back or maintain the use of paddling in schools and beating children at home). Conservatives miss that because they are so busy repressing their natural racism, sexism, and sexual desires that they cannot see what they are really revealing about themselves.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 28, 2011 7:52:54 AM

Reading the comments, the word "demonization" comes to mind, but I think the better word is "nuts."

Sometimes it's a mystery why people won't sign their names, and sometimes it's overwhelmingly obvious.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 28, 2011 9:50:54 AM

bill, what is really nuts is advocating a return to flogging in the 21st century given the obvious sexual and racial connotations behind the historical use of flogging in the United States of America.

And anyone who writes something like "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" deserves nothing but mockery.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 28, 2011 10:29:55 AM

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