The Perfect Prison

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.
 By C J Oakes

Imagine a world without prisons…not that easy.  Now imagine a world with fewer, but larger prisons.  However, these prisons do not resemble prisons.

These prisons resemble small cities, able to expand in any direction needed.  Like cities, these prisons house males, females, and children together.  How does that work?

Simple:  Only the most serious offenders are sent here and instructed on arrival that they will have to make their own way within.  They are here for the duration of their sentence.  Their life here, outside of the civilized world, is what they make of it. They choose to survive or die. Deliveries are made daily for supplies, but only if those within are able to pay for the supplies. Payments are made either in trade or currency, which will be permitted within via transfer by proper authorities. This is their world.

In time, what will happen is that an orderly, law-abiding city will develop. Unruly people will rule themselves.  If we let outlaws structure their own society, we all win in the long run.

Is Such a Penal System (or Colony) Possible in the Modern World?

Rehabilitation Policy
Rehabilitation Policy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although such a scenario sounds surreal, like something from a movie (aka. Escape from New York), there is sound precedent that such a system would work. In fact, from the earliest days of the U.S. Republic, locations founded by outlaws have transformed naturally over time into law-abiding, well-structured regions. In this book, we will explore just a few of these regions and discuss why such a transformation takes place.

Since its inception, the penal system has been fraught with difficulties. The reasons are numerous, not the least of which is the issue of control. By their very nature, prisons must seek to control the uncontrollable.

Many of those sent to prison are both capable and willing to alter their lives so as to become more productive citizens. Many display this attitude by taking full advantage of rehabilitation programs offered by correctional facilities. However, at odds with their desire to better themselves, there are those within who are bent on living outside the rules of modern society. In previous times, we would call them outlaws, which simply means that they live outside the law.

Outlaws tend to wield a strong influence on those who might otherwise be saved from a criminal lifestyle. They hold an advantage over correctional staff and those working to rehabilitate offenders. Thus, most prison systems find there is a revolving door…inmates come, they go, and shortly thereafter, they return.

What if there were a way to stop this cycle, to give prison officials the advantage in changing behaviors?

Federal timeline US prisoners
Federal timeline US prisoners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is the gist of this book. However, such a system would need to operate within the confines of the Constitution. For such a system to work, to truly rehabilitate some, a total transformation in how we look at corrections must occur. We must take into account all we know about human nature and behavior modification. Those who can be helped to change must be helped. Those who must be severely chastised in order to get their attention must be dealt with differently. Those who simply refuse to live according to the rules of society must be exiled to create their own society or perish.

In this second book of the Principles of Order series, we examine the historical development of prisons in America, the efficacy of maintaining the system as it has developed, and the possibility of altering that system.

There are numerous advantages to restructuring the prison system as we know it, not the least of which are the costs-to-social benefits derived.

I made this map with data collected from the 2...
I made this map with data collected from the 2006 ACA Directory of Prisons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, perhaps the most pressing reason to consider a radical change in how the nation incarcerates can be found in the Preamble of the United States’ Constitution. There, we read,

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This book, like the previous and future books in the series, will focus on how to better achieve “Justice,” “domestic Tranquility,” “the general Welfare,” and “the Blessings of Liberty” for today and future generations. These are the immutable principles upon which this nation was founded, but which many, our politicians included, have forgotten.

If we are to enjoy these Constitutional blessings today and well into the future, we must be a nation which embraces these principles. This means an overhaul to many of the systems we have implemented. One such, the Prison-Industrial Complex, is utterly failing in all four of these areas. This failure is not a result of those working within the system, but rather the result of simply working in a flawed system.

Ask the average person today if the modern prison/criminal justice system promotes justice and the answer will likely be “No.”

Likewise, ask if there is more social peace as a result of this system and depending on the neighborhood, again, the answer is likely to be “No.” What about promoting “the general Welfare” of our people? Again, we will not likely receive a positive response. Finally, without these three elements in place, Liberty is endangered. Certainly, for the millions currently incarcerated, mostly for non-violent drug possession, Liberty is a joke. For the millions more who are on probation or parole and unable to participate in the American process by voting, Liberty is a thing of the past.

What about promoting “the general Welfare” of our people? Again, we will not likely receive a positive response. Finally, without these three elements in place, Liberty is endangered. Certainly, for the millions currently incarcerated, mostly for non-violent drug possession, Liberty is a joke. For the millions more who are on probation or parole and unable to participate in the American process by voting, Liberty is a thing of the past.

Finally, without these three elements in place, Liberty is endangered. Certainly, for the millions currently incarcerated, mostly for non-violent drug possession, Liberty is a joke. For the millions more who are on probation or parole and unable to participate in the American process by voting, Liberty is a thing of the past.

There is a better way. There is a more American way. There is a way which adheres to the principles laid out in the Constitution. It is a way which protects society better while protecting our liberty, promotes both tranquility and welfare among our people, and most of all ensure justice.

In this Online Book author C J Oakes explores how to best design a better penal system.

English: Federal Correctional Institution, Mil...
English: Federal Correctional Institution, Milan – Interior of the prison grounds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is perfect possible? Of course not, but this idea represents a system which is punitive and protective, yet seeks to rehabilitate any but the most hardened criminals. In addition, such a system allows for mistakes in sentencing so that basic human rights are not trampled upon. Finally, it is a system which will, in the long-term, bring law and order to those who would choose to live outside current law and order.

Following are the Chapters, which will be presented in this section of Criminal Justice Law. We hope this book inspires future leaders of the Criminal Justice and Legal systems in America and throughout the world.

  1. Principles of Order: What the Constitution Says About Prisons
  2. A Brief History of Prisons
  3. The Purpose of Prisons
  4. Five Sentencing Goals, Restoration (Stage 1)
  • Rehabilitation (Stage 1)
  • Deterrence (Stage 2)
  • Incapacitation (Stage 3)
  • Retribution (Stage 3)
  1. Why Prisons Today Fail to Achieve these Goals
  2. Designing the Perfect Prison/Correctional System
  3. Stage One Offenders/Corrections
  4. Stage Two Offenders/Correctional Facilities
  5. Stage Three Offenders/Correctional Territories
  6. The Advantages of Such a Correctional System
  7. The Constitutionality of Such a Correctional System

 

References

  • Chapter 4: The First Penitentiaries: England and North America create the modern prison system 1780-1900. (2007). History of Incarceration, (), 56-71.
  • Foster, B. (2006). Corrections: The Fundamentals. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentis-Hall.
  • Goldsmith, L. (1999). “To profit by his skill and to traffic on his crime”: Prison Labor in Early 19th Century Massachusetts. Labor History, 40(4), 439-457.