National Review Misses Most Obvious Point in Taking on "Prison/Industrial Complex"


Rich Lowry at National Review tries to take on the "prison-industrial complex," with a dull shiv hastily carved from any old thing he found in the kitchen.

Pensiero / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

He has some decent ideas–encouraging prisoners to learn work skills, giving them opportunity to raise money (some of which should go as restitution to victims, though of course remember technically every crime is a crime against the state!), not releasing them without any of the means to survive honestly and legally in the world (including not locking them out of occupations via licensing laws), and not unduly restricting their ability to see/communicate with family and loves ones while in lockup.

He also has some creepy and counterproductive ones, like (approvingly quoting Eli Lehrer):

"Transition programs should increasingly involve random, unannounced home visits, subject ex-offenders to round-the-clock electronic monitoring, require them to take random drug tests, and offer them swift and certain punishment for slip-ups."

But what he doesn't deliver is the best knife in the jugular to kill the worst aspects of the prison-industrial complex, for prisoners, their families, their communities, and America: end the goddamn drug war, which gifts us with nearly half of federal prisoners and 18 percent of state and local ones.

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  1. end the goddamn drug war

    What’s the point of the random drug tests then, huh smartguy?

    1. For the guards.

  2. “Transition programs should increasingly involve random, unannounced home visits, subject ex-offenders to round-the-clock electronic monitoring, require them to take random drug tests, and offer them swift and certain punishment for slip-ups.”

    Every time I read a story about some guy who’s been a fugitive for 20 or 30 years who fled and changed their name, they’ve been completely harmless and anonymous to everyone around them that whole time.

    So maybe instead of attempting to achieve better results by imposing total probation control, it would be more effective to give people new names and hide them from the system utterly.

    1. Yeah it’s hard to get a new start when your record is there constantly reminding people that you are a CRIMINAL. Oh you’ve been convicted of a victim-less felony? Oh well too bad, we don’t have any good jobs for you.

    2. Maybe the fugitives become law-abiding because they don’t want to get entangled with the cops and have their identity discovered.

      1. Right, exactly.

        So “no cops come to my house” appears to be a stronger incentive than “I report to probation officer every week”.

    3. I don’t know if Whitey Bulger for one was harmless as a fugitive, though being one is an incentive not to do anything that gets notice. While in witness protection, Henry Hill still engaged in crime, so the lesson may be, fugitives on the run stay paranoid about being caught and don’t make waves, those who get a change in identity in the system think of themselves as big dogs with sanction while on a loose leash.

      1. Sammy “the Bull” Gravano is another example of a Witness Protection guy behaving badly. Ran an ecstasy trafficking ring, among other things.

        What gets me is, why do the Feds cover for them at all when they commit crimes while they’re in the program?

  3. I don’t think its fair to criticize NR over the drug war. They have largely been against it for years. The point of this article was about dealing with the prisoners in the system, not reforming which laws make them a prisoner.

    1. This was their (terrible) suggestion for ex-offenders, or those who have already served time and are out of the system

      1. ending the drug war and requiring a person stay off drugs as a condition of their parole are very different.

        Habitual drunk drivers may be required to prove sustained sobriety as a condition of their parole. That doesn’t mean we have outlawed alcohol. It means that a person who committed alcohol-related crimes must stay away from the booze as a condition of their sentence.

        And as I said, NR has long denounced the War on Drugs. It is not inconsistent to want drug prohibition eliminated while also expecting that people convicted of a crime stay drug free during the completion of their sentence.

        1. It is if the crime in question was also a drug crime.

          If we end drug prohibition, the strong moral implication of that is that every person who was ever convicted of a drug crime was the victim of an injustice.

        2. Why do drugs come into this at all? Did you miss the part about eliminating the drug war? You seem very focused on drugs.

          1. “You seem very focused on drugs.”

            I’m really not. And it is especially ironic that Libertarians are so obsessed with the War on Drugs that they cannot engage Lowry’s actual statements.

            I say obsessed, because it really seems to me that restrictions while on parole/probation are different than broad prohibitions. One can be for drug-free parole and still be against the WoD; just as one can be for sobriety and still be against the 18th Amendment; or against parolees having firearms and still being for the 2nd Amendment.

            And by the way, I think it perfectly reasonable to argue that those restrictions on parolees are TOO prohibitive. I think that is a great argument to have, which is a pity since too many libertarians would rather just talk about the WoD. (Which is important, but not the totality of the problems with our incarceration program in the US.)

    2. I don’t think its fair to criticize NR over the drug war. They have largely been against it for years.
      I know Bill Buckley was against it, and so NR was against it back in the early 90’s. Is that true now that he’s been dead and buried for 5 years?

      1. It is still their editorial policy to be against the Drug War, at least as of two years ago.

        There’s some diversity among their columnists and voices, but a substantial number are quite vocally against it.

      2. When I used to read NR, they were consistently against it. Oddly, the most dissenting of these was Jonah Goldberg who usually tends most libertarian of the group. But even he generally said things like, “Yeah I understand that the WoD is bad, but we can’t have free reign for EVERYTHING.” I agree that isn’t the best position, but it is hardly someone completely missing the point that the WoD is a huge cause of failure in the US today.

        In any case, for Lowry specifically, he is on the record as being for drastic “Minimilization” of the drug war, if not outright elimination.

        I’m not saying that these guys are Libertarians. But they certainly better on the drug war than most- And trying to hammer them about the drug war when they are talking about something else is just distracting.

        When the drug war ends, we will still have prisons and a need to reform them- even if there are fewer prisoners.

        1. Even Goldberg has admitted that it makes no sense for weed to be illegal.

  4. But what he doesn’t deliver is the best knife in the jugular to kill the worst aspects of the prison-industrial complex, for prisoners, their families, their communities, and America: end the goddamn drug war

    Hint: He didn’t miss it. It was purposefully left out.

  5. Transition programs should increasingly involve random, unannounced home visits, subject ex-offenders to round-the-clock electronic monitoring, require them to take random drug tests, and offer them swift and certain punishment for slip-ups.

    Yes, because nothing says “transition you back into society” like treating them like an animal after you’ve let them out of the cage.

    1. I’ve said this before, but here it is again: let them earn their way out. Move from prisoner to trustee, then guard. Maybe a couple of additional steps, then freedom.

      1. Move from prisoner to trustee, then guard.

        What could possibly go wrong?

        1. Nothing. If you do anything wrong, you start all over again.

          In fact, why not staff the prison entirely with former convicts?

          1. We already staff them with criminals who haven’t been convicted in large part.

              1. And how has that worked out?

                1. But these are criminals that have an incentive–not to go back to the pool. And, of course, there’s less question that they are criminals.

                2. Depends on how you feel about winning the Prison League softball pennant. Or having guards buying and selling steriods with prisoners. Me, personally, I think the makers of Cool Hand Luke were too understated about the casual violence and dictatorial bent of prisons in Florida. Its probably the same everywhere. Prisons are also a jobs program for underdeveloped parts of the state where the alternative employment used to be subsistance farming/hunting/trapping.

                  1. Eating fifty eggs get you a promotion.

            1. Well, there’s that too.

          2. It *really* depends on the type of crime we’re talking about here. I don’t consider drug offenses to be crime; when I say crime I mean rape/murder/etc; irreversible crimes. I understand that’s a small segment of the prison population, but that’s a different matter entirely.

            Anyways, most criminals are repeat offenders. They never “just did it that one time,” for the most part; of course, prison probably compounds this issue in itself in its current state.

            I literally do not see how this idea would end well for such prisoners.

            1. They’ve got to earn their positions and keep them with good behavior.

              1. Right; but, the moment you become a guard, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from leaving, except other guards, who probably would leave too.

                1. No, no, guards don’t get freedom. That’s later.

                  1. That was pretty funny.

      2. From guard to captain, to warden, to state representative, to Senator, to President, and then freedom.

        1. The new cursus honorum.

      3. I still like exile the best for crimes for which removal from society is the only reasonable option. The south Pacific is a tough mistress, especially with no way off the island. It worked for Australia.

        All other crimes should be dealt with some other way. Eliminate the prisons entirely.

          1. Just use Australia again.

            Plenty of space.

            1. And it’s already full of criminals.


              1. Jemaine: It doesn’t matter what country someone’s from, or what they look like, or the color of their skin. It doesn’t matter what they smell like, or that they spell words slightly differently…some would say, more correctly.

                Sinjay: Yeah…

                Jemaine: Let me finish. I’m a person. Bret’s a person. You’re a person. That person over there is a person. And each person deserves to be treated like a person.

                Sinjay: That’s a great speech. Too bad New Zealanders are a bunch of cocky a-holes descended from criminals and retarded monkeys.

                Jemaine: No, you’re thinking of Australians.

                Bret: Yeah, that’s Australians.

        1. I still like exile

          Baffin Island.

        2. With all those extra convicts, wouldn’t the Pacific islands tip over?

      4. Move from prisoner to trustee, then guard.
        The can graduate to Corrections Secretary, then get busted and start all over. I like it.

      5. That doesn’t sound like a good idea, ProL.

        Caging humans has always been a horrible, disgusting tactic with predictably horrible results. The best possible plan would be to cage as few as possible, using restitution as “punishment”. Some kind of danegild system would probably work better. Caging people just turns them vicious (or more vicious).

        1. You just know you’d never get promoted to guard.

        2. “danegild”

          I think you mean weregeld – and it doesn’t deal with the threat to public safety of leaving rapists, burglars, etc. free to roam the streets. And what of those criminals who don’t have spare weregeld lying around?

  6. giving them opportunity to raise money (some of which should go as restitution to victims, though of course remember technically every crime is a crime against the state!)

    In the libertarian society there would be no “district attorney” who
    prosecutes criminals in the name of a nonexistent “society,” even against the wishes of the victim of crime. The victim would himself decide whether to press charges.

    […] in the system of criminal punishment in the libertarian world, the emphasis would never be, as it is now, on “society’s” jailing the criminal; the emphasis would necessarily be on compelling the criminal to make restitution to the victim of his crime. The present system, in which the victim is not recompensed but instead has to pay taxes to support the incarceration of his own attacker ?- would be
    evident nonsense in a world that focuses on the defense of property rights and therefore on the victim of crime.

    Murray Rothbard in “For a New Liberty — The Libertarian Manifesto”

    1. The victim would himself decide whether to press charges.

      Is Madame Bogart consulted for a murder victim?

      1. In case of murder anyone can decide to press charges on behalf of the victim: the murderer himself made it impossible for the victim to not press charges. There’s nothing wrong with the assumption that the victim would have wished to press charges were he able to do so.

        1. So, someone has to volunteer to press charges? There’s no DA, so the volunteer is responsible for bringing a case? Really not understanding how this works.

          1. So, someone has to volunteer to press charges?

            Yeah; a relative, a friend, a colleague — or the person who found the victim or any concerned citizen.

    2. I love Murray to death, but really, how would this work? Would the prisoner be in a make-work prison job, and if so how long until he’s repaid his debt? Would the prisoner use his skills to get an engineering or tech job? Generally, and I know I’m generalizing, crooks don’t have those sorts of skills. How long before they can repay the victim out of the proceeds of his security guard job, or unemployment benefits?

      1. Whatever it takes to make restitution. If the criminal has property, then s/he can sell said property and make restitution out of that. If s/he has marketable skills with which s/he can make an income on the free market, then that can be the source out of which s/he can make restitution. That leaves those who are unwilling to work (or make restitution out of their property): for them indeed the “debtor’s prison” is the solution — where they are motivated to work because their loss of liberty. Of course it is a “debtor’s prison” for debts incurred by criminal action, not by failure to perform contractual obligations (assuming that said failure itself isn’t a criminal act).

        Compared to the current method it is a scheme of being able to “buy oneself out of prison”: if the criminal is willing (and able) to make restitution, then s/he doesn’t have to suffer incarceration.

    3. Rothbard is a fucking moron. Most criminals are too poor to make restitution to their victims. And further, if they cared about making restitution, they probably wouldn’t be criminals in the first place. Rothbard has absolutely no understanding of how crimes actually occur and how criminals actually think. Some people really are dangerous and just don’t give a shit.

      1. Making restitution involves forced labor or siphoning proceeds of your income to pay the other person. There are many ways. You damage someone’s property, you can’t pay directly then and there, then you pay with your own body and labor.

        He’s absolutely right that we have the entire principle of crime backwards. That is should be about the victim and rights infringed and proportional restitution as opposed to violation of some state decree.

        Really dangerous people i.e. murderers, are taken care of by that same principle of proportionality and make restitution with their lives, either in bondage or in retribution (but no one would be immune from false charges or mistakes either)

        1. Making restitution involves forced labor or…

          This is never going to happen. It’s actually a just method to compensate a victim, but really, it’s never going to happen.

          1. This is never going to happen.

            The 13th amendment explicitly leaves open this possibility:

            1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

  7. Speaking of cages, I forgot this in AM Links:…..ction.html

    Here’s my prediction about the story where the python supposedly “escaped” and killed the two sleeping kids:

    It will turn out that this guy set the snake on these kids because he’s a sick fuck who likes snakes and always wanted to see what one could do.

    There’s just no way the snake “happened” to “escape” the one day these kids “happened” to be visiting the pet shop owner’s upstairs apartment.

    No way.

    He finally had some targets, so he brought the snake upstairs.


    1. Or, the snake had always been able to get out but didn’t bother to before it got hungry enough to eat a child. The thing is 14 foot long and would probably see a 50-70 lb child as an ideal meal.

      1. Then why didn’t it try to eat either of the kids?

      2. Right, but the snake would have to choose to escape the one time kids were in an apartment completely separate from the pet store.

        Is this some kind of velociraptor snake? Does it have its own hidden camera system showing the rooms in the apartment?

        1. They have an excellent sense of smell and they can open doors.

          So yeah, raptors.

          1. Just more evidence of why you should have knobs and not handles.

            1. kinky

    2. As a person who is married to “a sick fuck who likes snakes,” and thus knows a lot about them, the story seems fishy.
      I’ll have to get my wife’s take on it this evening.
      For one thing, snakes generally don’t attack and constrict things that they don’t plan to eat, but at the same time snakes tend to hide unless they are hungry. So if it was prowling about then it was probably hungry, but if it was then I’d think it would have taken on something it could eat.
      The story doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      1. It seems very odd that the snake could get both kids. One maybe. But the snake is only going to take on one prey at a time. How did it get both? I could see the snake attacking one of the kids but then the other would have been woke up and run for help.

        Also, snakes, as I am sure you know, because they are cold blooded rarely eat. A big snake like that can go months without eating. So it seems unlikely that the snake was hungry and thus would have had any reason to attack.

        1. When snakes aren’t hungry they hide. They only leave their hide to hunt (for food or a mate) or regulate their body temperature. But if they’re out hunting because they’re hungry, they don’t just constrict their prey and then leave it there. They eat it. This doesn’t make a lot of sense.

          1. That is what I was thinking. It seems pretty unlikely that a pet store would have a snake this large and this dangerous and leave it unfed and thus more liable to be aggressive and dangerous.

            1. The Daily Fail has a much more detailed article than domestic news.


  8. He also has some creepy and counterproductive ones, like (approvingly quoting Eli Lehrer):

    “Transition programs should increasingly involve random, unannounced home visits, subject ex-offenders to round-the-clock electronic monitoring, require them to take random drug tests, and offer them swift and certain punishment for slip-ups.”

    I dunno how creepy this is. He’s basically describing “parole”. I guess the only question is, how extensive, how long and when can we consider an ‘ex-offender’ a functioning member of society.

  9. I think completely privatizing prisons would facilitate much faster reforms. Currently the “private” prison industry is not private at all, as they are all completely government funded. Having taxpayers directly pay out of their pocket for housing criminals and giving them a choice about that would quickly lead to questioning crimes and their sentences.

    Completely privatized would also mean capacity would also be limited by taxpayer choice. It could even be made by proportion, such as: 75% don’t want to pay for drug crimes, so 25% of your capacity could only be used for that. Even without any reform in the laws themselves, this would address many issues since imprisonment would not be up to the state anymore.

    Heck, the lobbying would completely flip. The industry would love to have some empty cells at least a good duration of the time, since less prisoner maintenance means more profit for them.

  10. “Transition programs should increasingly involve random, unannounced home visits, subject ex-offenders to round-the-clock electronic monitoring, require them to take random drug tests, and offer them swift and certain punishment for slip-ups.”


  11. The problem is that no amount of random visits or drug tests is going to keep someone who is violent from being violent. Letting people out of prison involves the risk that they are going to do something else criminal. There is no way to eliminate that risk. You can control it some by being careful about who you let out. But Lowry is an idiot if he thinks that once you have made the mistake of letting the wrong person out you can somehow correct it by having more control on the outside. You can’t.

    It goes back to the basic point of what you want out of prisons. I think a lot of our problems stem from our view of the role of prisons. Are prisons there to protect society from dangerous people or are they there to transform people we don’t like into the kind of people we do? It is the second view that gets us into trouble. We put murders and rapists and thieves in prison because we don’t want them praying on society. We put drug users in jail because we want to make them into non drug users.

    Lowery can’t get away from the rehabilitative purpose of prison.
    If we gave up on using prison to change society, we wouldn’t have to worry too much about who we let out since there wouldn’t be many people in prison and those who where there would be so dangerous that would never be let out anyway.

    1. All prisons teach people is how to adapt to living in prison.

      Go with what works: pain and public humiliation.

      Stocks, whipping post, and the gallows.

      Fuck this prison shit. It costs a ton of money to keep people in there who don’t contribute to society while they’re there, they learn new tricks and make friends with bad people, become less employable, lose years of their life, lose touch with friends and family, and for what? To give jobs to sociopaths who can pass a background check?

      1. I think that pain and humiliation is a great idea. But some people really are dangerous and won’t be deterred by that. Those people have to be hung or locked up. And since we don’t do much hanging anymore, locking up is about all we can do.

        Take someone like Bernie Madoff. Why am I paying to keep him locked up? He is not a threat to society. Should he be punished? Sure. But why not cane the living shit out of him such that he wishes he were never born and let his victims get a few licks in for good measure. After you did that and took everything he owned to compensate his victims, there is no need to send him to prison.

        1. The prison system exists to feed the families of the guards, lawyers, therapists, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, cops, and everyone else who gets a piece of the pie. It has nothing to do with punishment or keeping society save. Nothing at all.

    2. I recall someone advancing the theory that there is a hardcore group of violent criminals that are basically sociopaths and incapable of living in a civil society. These are the typical violent repeat offenders.

      Some of them burn out as they get older and are less likely to be repeat offenders at some point, but there’s little point to trying to rehabilitate them, since they’re just not wired right.

      1. Many of them become cops.

      2. Most violent crimes are committed by a very small group of people. And they cannot be rehabilitated by anything but time and sometimes not even then. All you can do with them is lock them up until they get older and settle down.

        Everyone else can be dealt with by other means.

  12. I wonder if Lowry knows that unannounced home visits and strict probation were the cornerstones of the progressivist “reform” movement in the early twentieth century? What about serving your time and then being done with it? Seems pretty basic, and more in line with freedom and due process.

    1. Lowry is a typical Washington journalist who has never done anything. He has no idea what actual criminals are like. And thus his solutions are fantasy.

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of P Brooks up there.

  13. NR has been pro-legalization for decades. Get an editor. You wouldn’t make such stupid mistakes with one, maybe.

  14. So part of his solution for reducing the stupid cruelties of incarceration is to make freedom more closely resemble incarceration.

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