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July 4, 2017

"Everyone should go to jail, say, once every ten years"

The title of this post is the (slightly off) headline of this recent Los Angeles Times op-ed authored by Jesse Ball. Here is the start of the provocative piece: 

To a nation of jailers:

A notable demand that is made upon the citizens of the United States of America is that of jury duty.  Although many despise, hate and avoid it, there is a general sense that the task is necessary. We believe a society is only just if everyone shares in the apportionment of guilt.

To this demand of jury duty, I would like to add another, and in the same spirit.  I propose that all citizens of the United States of America should serve a brief sentence of incarceration in our maximum-security penitentiaries.  This service, which would occur for each person once in a decade, would help ensure that the quality of life within our prisons is sufficient for the keeping of human beings.

The new population of inmates would not be separated from the general population. They would be like any others, and treated like any others. The length of incarceration would be randomly determined, anywhere from three to 90 days. Crucially, you would not be told in advance how long you would have to be there.

And of course, while you are in prison serving your incarceration duty, your behavior will have to be perfect. If you were to fight with another inmate or rebuke a guard, your time might be extended, and that would go for everyone: peons, aristocrats, elected officials. All elected and appointed officials, judges, federal, state servants, members of the military, would participate in incarceration duty. There would be no putting it off.

Just think, if everyone in the United States were to become, within a 10-year period, familiar with what it is like to be incarcerated, is there any question that the quality of our prisons would improve? It also follows that the skill and understanding of our juries might grow apace, as they would now know to what they were condemning those they condemn.

I describe the headline of this piece as "slightly off" because it seems the author is actually calling for national service duty at maximum-security penitentiaries, not just jails.  As one who has visited a few maximum-security penitentiaries and a few jails, I can say that one learns a lot just from a visit to any locus of incarceration.  But while I am not sure I would endorse a mandate of actual periods of incarceration as a civic duty, I still thought it worth spotlighting this notable commentary on a day we celebrate independence and freedom.

July 4, 2017 at 05:36 PM | Permalink


I could file one regulatory complaint each morning, and complete one lawsuit in the afternoon, uninterrupted by some job that only pays taxes to support the lawyer rackets.

I would be soliciting complaints from other inmates and from guards, helping them do the same. The guards should have the full legal right to just beat the ass of someone who spit on them or offended them in any other way. They are more oppressed than the prisoners. I might even help the warden conceive and formulate legal claims against the state and against the federal government. I would be reviewing with the guards and the ordinary prisoners, the European death penalty, to end bullying.

For example, all judges, especially any trained at Harvard Law School, are all biased in favor of the government. Their decisions should be reversed for bias. All judges are disqualified from any sentencing decision, their being paid by the government. They see the prosecutor and police over and over, becoming sympathetic to their viewpoints. Who knows, perhaps they are friends after cases are over.

Then, e-discovery on everybody, and I mean everybody.

I would be demanding cutting edge health treatments of all kinds to redo my aging body. I identify as Native American. I would demand plastic surgery to fulfill this feeling, and to enhance my chances of getting a casino license after my release. I would be busting the health budget with organ transplant demands, since my entire body has to be redone.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 4, 2017 6:43:58 PM

While I jokingly say everybody should be required to spend time in jail to know what it is like, for 40 years I have semi-jokingly advocated that before a judge and prosecutor is eligible to serve, they should be required to spend a year in jail (prisons generally are comparatively too easy) under the same conditions they subject the defendant to. It might do good for public defenders too, so they more zealously represent their clients. Of course, I don't really want any of them to be subjected to the tyranny often imposed on the prisoners by some of the guards.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 4, 2017 6:47:53 PM

In my criminal law small section class of 20-some students at UNC Law School in 1973-74, we visited North Carolina's maximum security prison for a couple of hours, with the Warden taking us around. It was eye-opening, and I do think citizens who see prisons even briefly will learn something useful.

Posted by: Pat Oglesby | Jul 4, 2017 9:02:25 PM

I have a counter proposal. Every ten years, we have all pro-criminal lawyers, especially reptile appellate judges and lawyer legislators, and all race whores take their turn.

We carjack them. We pistol whip them because they have not moved fast enough. Then we take their daughter in the back seat off to parts unknown.

Let them taste of the bitter fruit of their sicko ideologies, the way everyone else has to.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 4, 2017 10:36:30 PM

At last , at last ...
A Modest Proposal to the hoi poloi

Posted by: Docile/Kind Soul® In Oregon | Jul 5, 2017 2:39:21 AM

I think it should be a Mandatory that all federal legal beagles and judges and if coarse congress spend 10 days in a federal prison thats at least 300 miles from their home for 9 days, that way cover 2 weekends. No visits, mandatory jobs etc.

Senators included, these guys need a double dose.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 5, 2017 7:28:28 AM

This is silly talk.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 5, 2017 8:20:40 AM

Speaking of jail:


This story shows that not a few people should have to spend the night in the greybar hotel.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 5, 2017 8:24:26 AM

It's useful for someone to have to handle the criminal justice system, including for a member of one's family. Even needing to spend the night in jail (heck, a few hours), might be informative.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 5, 2017 9:55:53 AM

Doug, when I was a Lt. in the Navy JAG, I was at the War College in Newport Rhode Island. There were 75 of us and on a Friday, we got on a bus to the Portsmouth New Hampshire maximum security Naval Prison, and turned over to Marines. I was locked into one of those old fashioned tiered cells, where you could touch both side of the cell with your outstretched fingers. We were "released" on Sunday.

While no fun at the time, I think it served a good purpose.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jul 5, 2017 10:03:13 AM

Off topic basically:


She argued the Michelle Carter prosecutor was just while at Dorf on Law expanding how she still supports a broad right to end one's life (with help if necessary).

Posted by: Joe | Jul 5, 2017 11:07:57 AM

A more modest proposal: While working, staff at prisons and jails would have to eat the same meals served to inmates.

Posted by: Bryan Gates | Jul 5, 2017 11:46:39 AM

For those who don't remember 1979, check out the film, "Brubaker."

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Jul 5, 2017 4:06:14 PM

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