Coercion = Freedom


The Christian Science Monitor explains why California's ban on smoking in its prisons is a win-win-win situation: Guards won't have to work in the presence of smoke, taxpayers will save money that would otherwise be spent to treat smoking-related disease, and inmates will enjoy enhanced freedom when they are forced to give up their cigarettes. Instead of endorsing the smoking ban as part of the punishment imposed on convicted criminals, the Monitor insists California is doing them a favor.

"Lighting up is an illusionary respite from a craving that feeds its own dependency," the paper opines. I'm not sure what that means, but the Orwellian logic is clearer when the Monitor explains that "California's move, besides being in the long-term health interests of individuals who are wards of the state, should be seen as true rehabilitation." Why? Because "helping offenders accept responsibility to stop smoking can provide them a personal freedom, and only whet their appetites for greater freedoms."

I suspect the prisoners won't see it that way, but maybe that's just because they haven't been sufficiently rehabilitated yet.

[Thanks to Wally Olson for the link.]


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  1. On the other hand, large numbers of felons simultaneously going through nic fits in the same buildings will make them a lot more violent.

    So there’s that.

  2. How is banning smoking “helping offenders accept responsibility to stop smoking”???

  3. Aside from the strange reasoning that a smoking ban would somehow be a liberating experience – so to speak – even from a libertarian perspective, I don’t see this as problematic. When you are convicted of breaking the law you face the possibility of losing your most basic rights. I fail to see why one’s right to smoke should somehow be off the table. Moreover, when society incarcerates its fellow citizens, we take on certain affirmative duties, one of those being the health of the inmates. That is, the rest of us are constitutionally required to foot the bill for their healthcare (as opposed to voluntarily when we push our elected officials to vote for government sponsored healthcare and the like). Reasonable measures to reduce those costs seem perfectly appropriate to me.

    Of course, as a cost reducing measure we might want to look at certain laws that put a lot more people in prison than is really necessary, but that’s another argument for another time.

  4. Black markets are a myth. They’ll NEVER smuggle cigarettes into the pen. It’s impossible.

  5. What if the prisoner needs medical marijuana?

  6. What will they use for currency now?

  7. “Lighting up is an illusionary respite from a craving that feeds its own dependency,”

    It’s kinda true. What that means is that it’s like a poison ivy itch. Scratching only provides brief respite from the itching, and only makes you want to scratch more in the future, even though you shouldn’t be scratching.

    Illusionary? Not so sure about that, though. I don’t think there are any illusions about it. It’s not like smokers actually think that the euphoria/relief from the next cig they smoke will last forever. They know damn well. But, yeah, it is a brief respite from a craving, which feeds more craving in the future.

    “helping offenders accept responsibility to stop smoking can provide them a personal freedom, and only whet their appetites for greater freedoms.”

    How many ways is that sentence absurd? Let us count the ways. You’re not helping anyone accept any responsibility. “Helping them accept responsibility” would be along the lines of offering them stop-smoking aids. But banning it, overlord style? That’s quite the opposite of “responsibility”. In fact, it might just teach them to RELY on OTHERS to get things done.

    In other words, to paraphrase, confiscate a man’s smokes, stop him from smoking for a day. Teach him to quit on his own, stop him from smoking for awhile.

    Haha, that’s a brilliant piece of beauro-speak. Forcibly prohibit someone from doing something in order to bolster their personal responsibility. Bwah ha ha!

    Furthermore, show me one goddamned prisoner that says “Hmmm, now that they’ve forced upon me the freedom to not smoke, I want other freedoms too! I’m gonna be a good wittle prisoner now!”

    Nobody could possibly be that obtuse.

  8. Christian Science and Scientology… what’s the dif?

  9. Daniel is right, however. I find it patently absurd to say that it’s OK to forcibly lock someone up in a cage for 20 years, but to take their smokes would be inhumane. Come on. They’re in fuckin’ PRISON. They forfeited certain rights when they broke the law. We can argue about whether certain laws are valid or not, but from the abstract standpoint of the blind justice system, it’s certainly valid.

  10. You know, I always laughed in school when we got essay topics like “What does freedom mean to me?” How corny and lame is THAT, I’d think to myself. Couldn’t they think of anything more INTERESTING than that to ask us, I’d wonder. Ah, the comforting conceit of complacency…..

    Now, I think we might seriously need to take some kind of national survey; like maybe ask everybody to answer that same question in essay form on the next census or something (perhaps putting to use this intriguing new “freedom by coercion” methodology?). Would be an interesting exercise. In a nation quickly dividing along linguistic lines (defining one another in presumptive ways that preclude rebuttal or discourse, e.g. “extremist” “baby killer” “chickenhawk” etc.) it’s worth wondering if we can agree even roughly on what freedom actually means.

  11. What is wrong is the idea that we need to stop prisoners form doing unhealthy things. If that was true they would outlaw ass rape, with the resultant increase of AIDS among prisoners.

    I find it funny that the nanny state people who know best for others thinks it?s a great idea to stop smoking, which no studies have shown increase health care costs in populations, while turning a blind eye to rapes, which impose a death penalty on the sufferers (who were presumably not sentenced to death) and have much greater long term costs associated with AIDS treatment.

    Only in America!

  12. I don’t think the issue is that they’re taking away smokes from prisoners. If they want to do it, well, it is prison, after all. We can debate whether it’s a good idea on practical grounds (be careful before sending violent felons into withdrawals), but I don’t think anybody here has fundamental objections.

    But when somebody tries to explain that taking away a right is liberating, I mean, come on. Cut the BS. Call it what it is: Prison.

    In a nutshell, I think most of the objections in this thread are to the ridiculous rhetoric rather than the measure in question.

  13. You’re all missing the point. See, what we’ll do is take away their cigarettes so they geta taste of freedom. And then, once they have that rich, savory taste in their mouths, we’ll take it away from them and make them start smoking again. That way, they learn a valuable lesson about the priveledge of freedom.

  14. The HBO series “Oz” did a take on this early on (great show). All this will do is push cigs into the black market with the rest of the drugs. Inmates will be more pissed off, and guards will have another thing to have to bust heads over. Lose lose.

  15. Um, Ira? About the whole “They should outlaw ass rapes” idea…

    You know what? Nevermind. That’s a great idea. Raping people in the ass should totally be outlawed.

  16. What will they use for currency now?

    I was thinkin’ about that. There’s probably some young kid who’s been sold off for cigarettes as everybody’s bitch, who’s thinkin’ to himself, “Alright! Now that they don’t have that form of currency, everything’s gonna get a lot better for me–real quick!” …Only to realize that he may be the closest thing they’ve got to currency now.

    …Of course, there’s nothing funny about ass rapin’.

  17. I’ll toss your salad for a pack of Nicorette.

  18. Call me a liberal wuss if you must (despite my libertarian credentials), but actually, I don’t think that people give up their rights when they violate other people’s rights. Sure, they should be required to provide restitution to their victims, but beyond that, we should probably consider how we’re treating people by putting them in prison, and what we expect of them when going through such an experience.
    The goal should still be justice, and not merely punishment for the sake of punishment.

  19. Newsflash: healthier prisoners just result in sucking down taxpayer money anyway, because they sit in the pokey longer. It’s six of one/half dozen of the other.

    And the black market for tobacco will just increase. I object to the measure in question AND the ridiculous rhetoric, because banning something has always resulted in a robust black market. Remind me again, why are we against the WoD?

  20. I agree with Mr. Clem largely, but I might add that there’s something to be said for incapacitating violent criminals.

  21. Black markets are a myth. They’ll NEVER smuggle cigarettes into the pen. It’s impossible.

    And they don’t have sex, either…

  22. California’s move…should be seen as true rehabilitation. That’s a disregarded word in an era of high incarceration rates, mandatory sentencing, and tighter state budgets.

    The state needs as much rehabilitation as the inmates.

  23. Once we have privately owned prisons, we can subject the inmates to constant manipulative advertizing and trick them into buying all sorts of worthless shit just as we do outside the prisons now.

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