Currently viewing the tag: "prison"
We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

Oh, hey, look at me over at The Daily Beast!

In which I try to talk to people who are overly focused on private prisons, but have the right idea of “something is wrong with the American prisons system.” There is a libertarian kicker at the end.

In the last few years, as a surprisingly bipartisan backlash against American over-criminalization has grown, many justice reformers have noticed, and rightfully critiqued, private prisons. The stalwart American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is uncomfortable  with the idea of profiteering from mass incarceration and notes that the industry’s bread and butter is putting and keeping people behind bars. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and some Catholic dioceses, are starting to come out in opposition to the multibillion-dollar private prison industry. Liberal outlets like Think Progress and Alternet publish fearful exposes about these powerful, amoral corporations.

And they have good points, these upset people. They note how private prisonsheld 128,195 people back in December 2010. That’s only about 5.5 percent of the total population behind bars (including county jails); but that number shot up 37 percent between 2002 and 2009. Critics point to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison corporation, which employs eight lobbyists and have waged multimillion-dollar efforts to influence laws and politics.

The rest here

Rollerblade_444692_1510740Last fall, VICE published a piece by Brian Aitken, a man who had recently moved to New Jersey, where he narrowly escaped seven years in prison for possession of guns that were legal in his previous home of Colorado but banned in the Garden State. Only after an executive order from Governor Chris Christie commuted his sentence was Aitken set free—if being stuck with a lingering felony charge can be called freedom.

Disagree about gun laws all you like, but New Jersey is pretty nuts about theirs. It’s less about Second Amendment specifics, or ideologies (unless yours involves more people crammed into US prisons), and more about making criminals appear out of thin air. It doesn’t sound so terrible when you read that New Jersey doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania concealed carry permits, for example—unless you happen to have someone passing through and unaware of the nuts and bolts of interstate laws. Last October, a Philadelphia mother of two was pulled over for an unsafe lane change. Shaneen Allen, 27, told the officer that she had a handgun and bullets in her vehicle, and then showed the cop her Pennsylvania concealed carry permit. Bad idea. Now Allen, who had been robbed more than once—which was her motivation for buying the gun in the first place, along with protecting her two kids—is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and faces three years in prison.

Lately, there’s been a great deal of positive push-back against federal drug mandatory minimums, but not much resistance to firearm minimums that punish people for selling drugs and owning a gun—even if it was legal in another jurisdiction, and even if it was never displayed.Guns may be a politically loaded (pardon the God-awful pun) object, but owning one is not the same as committing violence. These kind of laws should be filed away with low-level drug prohibitions as unjust restrictions on consensual activity.

The rest here

Today’s video is the Dead Kennedys playing the first of many of their updates to the classic “California Uber Alles”:

I’m assuming at this point Jello Biafra is back to singing about Jerry Brown. I mean, how could you resist that kind of circle?

Oh, bonus: The first part of one ancient Oprah with Jello Biafra, Tipper Gore, and angry British editor of Spin from 1986:

And another Oprah from 1990 with Tipper Gore, Jello Biafra, and a particularly insightful Ice-T. The whole things are so fascinating for so many different reasons. Also, Tipper Gore is the prissiest woman in the world.

She really is.

401977_820298143983_859526031_nBelow is the second edition of “The War at Home” column. I tried to cram in a hasty lesson on the whys and the dangers of the militarized police in America.

Antiwar commenters are often yelling at me for being for open borders or for referring to Chelsea Manning as Chelsea Manning, but they may have a point about my final paragraph being misleading. Noted, commenters. Thanks for the lesson.

(I also should have headlined it “The Blurred Line Between Soldiers and Cops” because that so obviously sounds better. Ugh.)

Nevertheless, do check it out:

In a March 10 USA Today piece, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) expressed his desire to introduce legislation that would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 program which is used to supply police departments with gear that was once used on the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a long overdue “official” recognition that something terrible has happened to police departments in the US. Whether Johnson’s plan has a chance of getting anywhere remains to be seen. Because there are numerous firmly-stuck perverse incentives that lead to the state of policing today and which perpetuate it.

People who casually notice the more military-like qualities of American police would be forgiven for assuming their tactics, weapons, and menacing appearance are a result of post-9/11 fear. Though September 11 and subsequent scares and some real incidents such as the Boston Bombing have aggravated this problem – and there is a similar equipment grant program that comes from the Department of Homeland Security that Rep. Johnson should check on – the catalyst for our mutant police is narcotics prohibition.

Ronald Reagan’s literal drug war began in 1981 with the passage of the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Statute (10 USC 371-380). More loosened restrictions followed that allowed domestic assistance by the military to police in certain (usually drug) cases. It also set up a system where police departments could receive equipment through grants from the federal government. This lead to bizarre commando-style drug raids that sometimes included military helicopters, and even U-2 spy planes. (The flimsy accusation that the Branch Davidian sect had a meth lab was even the excuse for the presence of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other military hardware during the disastrous 1993 standoff outside Waco, TX.)

Richard Nixon had declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 and pushed some bad policies – including a DC “no-knock raids” law – with limited success. But the conflict became the monster we see today under Reagan. Those years rocketed the US’s prison population to its current inhumane level of more than 2 million people, and they lead to the normalization of camo-clad cops kicking in doors over reports of weed or other drugs. The spike in crime in the 1990s cemented this supposed need for eternally tough on crime measures from police and politicians. Policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders made it clear this was was a serious enough issue to warrant life in prison for repeat, nonviolent drug dealers.

The rest over here

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

We should take his guitar so we can be REALLY tough on crime!

Below is a guest post by Cory Massimino, a blogger for Students for Liberty. Prison abolitionism is an intriguing idea, one that interests me but I have yet to explore in depth. Unafraid, Massimino goes there and argues that prisons — even for the violent individuals who may “deserve it” — have no place in the ideal libertarian society.

Let us know how you feel in the comments.

The prison system as we know it is commonly regarded as disgusting, brutal, unethical, and the antithesis to anything and everything libertarians stand for. America’s prisons are funded with money expropriated from tax payers, awarded to politically connected prison contractors, to cage human beings largely charged with only harming themselves. Every step of the way, the modern prison system is structured in such a way that benefits politicians, police unions, and prison contractors, at the expense of tax payers, minorities, harmless drug users, and others guilty of the state-created fairy tale known as “victimless crimes.”

What would an ideal prison system look like? Libertarians and others with a yearning for justice suspect it would be a much smaller institution, in place only to put away those in society that are truly guilty of wrong doing, such as murders, thieves, and rapists. They don’t want it to be abused by politicians, unions, and crony capitalists. They want it to be a truly blind system, that doesn’t disproportionately put away minorities and provides true justice. While I share these admirable goals, I believe the prison system should not only be shrunken, but abolished all together on both ethical and pragmatic grounds.

Libertarians are dedicated to the idea of non-aggression. We believe the initiation of force is wrong, and the only time aggression is justified is in self-defense. While this is the core of libertarian ethics, it is not the whole story.

Suppose I just don’t like your face and decide to step on your toe. I have aggressed against you and violated your rights. Since you are now justified in retaliating, would it be ethically allowed for you to shoot me? You are allowed to retaliate, but that doesn’t mean any and all actions you take are justified. While you would not exactly be initiating force against me, your act of retaliation (shooting me) is not proportional to my use of force (stepping on your toe), and is, therefore, not ethically allowed. While we must refrain from initiating force, we must also refrain from using a disproportionate amount of retaliatory force. If you shot me for stepping on your toe, you would be acting disproportionately, and that counts as aggression.

It follows then, that libertarians are dedicated to a strict use of the term “self-defense.” We can act aggressive insofar as that aggression is needed to defend ourselves or make ourselves whole. For example, if you stole my cell phone, I can capture you and force you to give my cell phone back. If you had lost or destroyed my cell phone before I captured you, you would be ethically required to make me whole to the best of your ability; to pay restitution. Depending on certain cultural and legal norms, you would have to buy me a new cell phone, or give me the monetary equivalent of my cell phone, or any other similar actions.

This has certain implications for the use of punishment in society. In fact, it means coercion for the sake of punishment is morally unjustified, since punishing someone for the sake of punishment goes beyond acting out of mere self-defense. While we may have inclinations to act out of revenge or payback, we can’t justify coercion in the name of solely inflicting suffering because that would be a disproportionate use of force. The only justification for the continuous restraining of people, like a prison does, would be in the case of people who just won’t stop committing crimes; repeat offenders. A society based on restitution and making the victim whole, rather than punishment is the realization of non-aggression and proportionality.

What do we make of the pragmatic objections to a restitution-based, prison-free justice system? The most common objection is what do we do with criminals? We must acknowledge that in a free society, the amount of “criminals” would be dramatically less than it is now. The prison system cages millions of non-violent drug offenders that would be free to do what they wish to their own body in a free society.

Okay, but what about the current prisoners who did commit a real crime, such as murder, rape or theft? What do we do with them? No doubt, people who commit these crimes, under most circumstances, are despicable, wretched individuals. But we must acknowledge that many crimes are done in the heat of the moment to people the perpetrator personally knows. Committing a single crime is not, in itself, a sign that you will commit another one or that you are an ongoing threat. Simple restitution seems appropriate in the cases where people are not expected to be repeat offenders.

Alright, what, then, do we do with true criminals — the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, that are repeat offenders? I strongly suspect that private companies, instead of spending money to build large buildings to house this small number of repeat offenders, would find it profitable to use a system similar to that of house arrest. It would be more efficient to use technology and guards on call to restrain people to their homes than to transport them all to a single, large location.

Furthermore, restitution would act as a deterrent for committing criminal acts and some kind of insurance scheme described by economist Robert Murphy in Chaos Theory, which would be used to determine and know people’s criminal history, could create incentives to remain peaceful through charging higher or lower premiums.

Libertarians ought not only object to the modern, crony infested prison system that commits heinous crimes on a daily basis, but also support the abolition of prisons all together. Taken to its logical conclusions, the non-aggression principle and the principle of proportionality require the end to all prisons and pragmatic considerations only reinforce our case against them. Prisons have no place in a free society.

Who will build the prisons in Libertopia? No one.

Cory Massimino studies economics at Seminole State University and blogs for Students For Liberty. He spends his time ranting about the government and educating people on basic economics. Follow him on Twitter

On Thursday, Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley) confirmed what has long been suspected by folks following her story, she is not a gay man, she is a transgender woman. If only her confident-sounding official announcement could have been made in happier circumstances. On Wednesday, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for various charges — including violation of the Espionage Act —  related to her leak of hundreds of thousands of documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and numerous private diplomatic communications.

During the 1,293 days between her arrest in May, 2010 and this statement, there were hints at Manning’s status, but no confirmation. Now Manning herself has stated her preference, which is all that matters. The often oft-amusing Erin Gloria Ryan wrote a good enough Jezebel post on respecting Manning’s transition and not being horrible about it. But Ryan didn’t really delve into the the reason Manning faces such a long time behind bars. Indeed, Jezebel itself (and this is a sign of a bigger problem for the blog, with rare exceptions) seems to be unable to translate caring about feminist issues such as being an ally to the trans community into bigger issues like embracing more radical politics than the dreaminess of the Commander in Chief.

Certainly Manning’s status is not unimportant, especially now that she is set to begin her sentence with the knowledge that the military will not be respecting her gender identity. (Not to mention her torturous treatment during some of her pre-trial detainment.)  Also, her less-than-hetero status has been used by critics ever since her name appeared in the press. Back in 2010, conservative commentator Ann Coulter decided that Manning leaked the information because she was a gay man “in a snit” and therefore couldn’t be trusted with sensitive intel. Other right-wingers like actor Adam Baldwin reacted to the confirmation of Manning as Male-to-Female by charmingly wondering “which came first: Manning’s insanity, or his treason?” Manning’s identity seems awfully convenient for folks who already thought “he” had done wrong by leaking.

But even now, to focus solely on Manning’s MtoF status is myopic. She is more than a trans woman who warrants support because there’s no real reason not to use someone’s preferred gender. She didn’t leak because she was suffering great stress partially due to — but not entirely because of — her difficulties adjusting to the military. She definitely did not leak because she was trans. She leaked because, in her own words, she changed her mind about the war on terror after seeing how up close. She committed an anarchic, arguably reckless act fueled by very clearly expressed principles of opposition to government secrecy, the occupation of Iraq, and the deaths of innocent civilians. She saw things during her stint as a military analyst in a warzone, and she thought people should know some of the things she knew. She wanted a more transparent society.

Yes, you might argue she could have leaked more judiciously. She certainly shouldn’t have trusted hacker and eventual-rat Adrian Lamo with her confession of criminal guilt. But to talk about Manning should be to talk about concepts arguably even more radical than complicated aspects of gender. Government leaders, police, the military, all have special privileges and immunities not granted to the average person. Individuals in the U.S. and more violently abroad bear the brunt of that privilege often. Iraq is a fucking mess, thanks in large part to the United States. Afghanistan, too. Drone strikes throughout the Middle East kill and psychologically torture civilians, and breed more resentment of the United States and more terrorists. Manning’s release of war-logs helped paint a much clearer picture of how these wars are fought, something U.S. society, with its constant refusal to depict the real, bloody cost of conflict, sorely needs. By pushing hard against the stifling, dusty room of government secrets, Manning changed the world and let some sunshine in. She may have even helped jump-start the Arab Spring. And her actions lead to Snowden (even if he looked at her partially as how not to leak). Snowden in turn sparked the current, snowballing debate about what powers the national security sector has, what powers it claims to have, and what Congress, and the President, and the public should do about it.

Knowing the questions her actions raise, it doesn’t make sense to ignore Manning’s status as a political figure. Jezebel has broached the subject of less-sympathetic prisoners who were also trans slightly more cautiously in the past. (Though there’s nothing wrong with expressing some empathy for anyone caught up in the United States’ fucked up, enormous prison system, guilty, violent, or not.) Support her or not (and I argue you should), Manning is a woman who committed a bold and lawless act. She is not just a reason to discuss the rotten treatment of trans individuals by society, the military, or the prison system. That conversation is important, but it’s not the one Manning sacrificed her freedom to start.

Let’s respect Manning by referring to her by chosen name and prefered pronoun. But let’s also respect the woman who is now stoically facing 35 years in prison by continuing to talk about what she did, and how we’re going to respond to the next whistleblower.