Outsourcing torture here

If you'd opened our paper Wednesday to pages 2 and 3 of the local section, you'd have read the following headlines: "10 charged in alleged child porn network," "Man charged with rape of teen," and "Father of two pleads guilty in child porn case." All on the same day. Yeesh.

Anyone who is proven guilty of the things these men are accused of needs to be taken off the streets. Incarceration is needed in such cases for all three of the classic reasons: public safety, punishment and deterrence. (I don't know how effective the last really is, though, since these crimes don't tend to be the result of rational calculation, but such as it is I think the pedagogical effect here still matters.)

But here's the problem: If any of these dozen suspects gets convicted, do you know what will happen to them in prison?

That's a yes or no question. and the answer is yes. You do know — we all know. They will very likely be beaten and raped, repeatedly. They will, in essence, by be sentenced to torture, to cruel and unusual punishment. This violates the Eighth Amendment, and it violates basic decency. It is both illegal and inhuman. Like all torture, it is intolerable and counterproductive.

The fact that this torture will be administered at the hands of their fellow prisoners and not by officials of the state hardly matters, because the state is — we are — placing them into a situation in which we all seem to know that this is what will happen. The state's hands are clean only in the meaningless technical sense that America's hands are "clean" in cases of extraordinary rendition — when we ship terror suspects off to Syria or Saudi Arabia, outsourcing torture.

I have no experience in, and know very little about, the administration of prisons. It baffles me that they should be such violent, gang-controlled, drug-infested places. I have a hard time grasping how it is that such institutions — places where every meal and movement is monitored and controlled — are so lawless. But I'm assured by those who know more than I do that this is the case and that there seems to be little that even the most able administrators can do about it.

What we need, then, are separate prisons. We need different institutions to house different types of criminals. If the sexual predators who prey on children cannot be incarcerated in our current, one-size-fits-all prisons without being subjected to beatings and rape — to torture — then it seems we should at least try creating separate prisons for these men, places where they can be incarcerated apart from the prisoners who will, almost certainly, subject them to such crimes.

(Glibly accepting the current state of affairs — "Do you know what happens to people like that in prison?" — also undermines the law. It suggests that beatings and rape are, in some cases, acceptable or tolerable. The corrosive pedagogical effect of that trumps any useful deterrent effect of incarcerating "people like that.")

Creating such separate prisons is politically unlikely. Any such effort would be attacked as an act of soft-hearted sympathy for those who prey on children. Such attacks may be politically effective, but they are either dishonest or misinformed. This has nothing to do with sympathy for criminals, it has to do with us, with who we are.

As is often the case, Hilzoy states this more clearly than I am able to. The subject of Hilzoy's post is the "Black Sites" — the secret overseas CIA prisons in which terror suspects are subjected to various, blatantly illegal, forms of torture. Simply substitute "pedophile" or "child pornographer" for "terrorist" in Hilzoy's post and every word of this applies to my argument above:

Whenever I write a post like this, someone pops up in comments to ask why I am so concerned about the fate of terrorists. In many cases, I don't have to engage with this question: many of the people we have held and tortured are innocent. In the case of the program described in this report, however, I would assume that many, though not all, were terrorists. So it's worth saying explicitly that this is not, for me, just about feeling badly for the people we have detained and abused. Sometimes I feel very badly for them, especially in the case of those who are, as best I can tell, completely innocent; but feeling badly for them is not essential. Because there's another motivation at work, namely: concern for my country, and the desire that it be the best country it can be.

There are some things we, as individuals, should not do to other people. Often, we will also sympathize with those people, and that sympathy might prevent us from, say, torturing or raping them. Sometimes we feel no sympathy, however — the other person might be a person only a saint could sympathize with, like Jeffrey Dahmer. If our only reason for not torturing or raping people was sympathy, then when faced with such a person, we might have no reason not to do whatever we liked to him or her. But sympathy is not our only reason for not torturing and raping people. There's also self-respect: the thought that whatever someone else might choose to be like, and even if that person has chosen to be Jeffrey Dahmer, there are certain things that I will not choose to do, because I do not want to be the sort of person who does them.

If someone saw me not torturing Jeffrey Dahmer and said: Gosh, there's hilzoy, all undone by the thought that such a horrible person might suffer even a teensy bit of pain, I would think: sorry, but you do not understand why I am doing this at all. And if someone thinks that the reason I do not want my country to abduct children, to disappear people without charges and without trial, to waterboard them, or to keep them in isolation for months on end, is nothing but concern for them, they are making a similar mistake. I feel terrible about what we have done to a lot of people — the Uighurs, for instance. I do not have a lot of sympathy for Osama bin Laden. But that fact has precisely nothing to do with my thinking that there are certain things I simply do not want my country to do, even to him.

  • Bartleby

    Four cheers for this post — you’re completely correct. Americans are at least as apt as anyone else to hunger to find someone who can be hated without guilt … someone who, no matter what is done to him, deserves even worse. This appetite for a Goldstein who will serve as an object for our Five Minutes’ Hate is both subversive of orderly thought and corrosive to the soul.

  • M Groesbeck

    U.S. prisons tend to function in a very specific sort of way — leaders of prison gangs (and “dominant” prisoners more generally) act as de facto (if unofficial) agents of the state. A strict hierarchy among prisoners based on violence, intimidation and rape is actually encouraged by the prison administration as long as it is directed against other prisoners and as long as it is judged controllable. Functionally, any member of the state-apparatus carries a degree of responsibility for the actions of the prisoner hierarchy, as their ability to use violence is delegated by the state prison apparatus in the first place.
    Grouping of different types of offenders together (and *especially* the grouping of prisoners with a history of violence with those who are imprisoned on non-violent drug charges) also serves the social function of promoting violence as a survival reflex among working-class men of color, which makes justification of extensive use of police violence *outside* of prison easier to justify to white citizens.
    There *is* one class of criminals which is punished separately, though — the white-collar mega-thieves, frauds, etc. (at least, the few who are ever prosecuted). Not only white-collar but *white* prisoners generally tend to be diverted towards less-violent lower-security prisons, allowing for easier reintegration into the less-directly-controlled life outside of prison.

  • Cactus Wren

    As the Fourth Doctor once put it: “You see, I don’t do that sort of thing.”
    We’re supposed to be the good guys, aren’t we? The ones who [i]don’t do that sort of thing[/i].

  • slartibartfast

    This is something that has worried me for a long time, it how we treat the powerless that defines us as a society, and you can’t get much more powerless than a convicted paedophile. But more than this, I think it’s merely one part of a prison system that is a complete failure. If asked, I would think that most people would at least claim that prisons are places of rehabilitation, somewhere that people can pay their debt to society, maybe learn a skill or two, and then return to the society they wronged, as a useful member.
    But if pressed, they will admit that they know that this isn’t how prisons work, that essentially it’s a revolving door – once you become part of the system you’re much more like to be encouraged in your criminal ways, reoffend and wind up back in prison. And so ad infinitum.
    I think one of the key problems lies in that We The People are not, if we will admit it to ourselves, entirely averse to the fact that prisons are in fact places were bad people go and get punished (beatings, rape, etc), because this is precisely what we think they deserve. The comparison to extraordinary rendition is entirely apt, we don’t want to beat and rape these people ourselves, but we’re not going to object too loudly if they happen to get “what’s coming to them”.
    We need to decide what we want our criminal justice system to be – an instrument to punish the wicked; or a process that allows those who have transgressed against society to right their wrongs, and then return as productive members. If the first, then let’s be honest with ourselves and start sentencing people to torture befitting their crime, or mandatory death sentences. But if (and I hope this is the case) the latter, then we need to separate our very human desires for vengeance from our application of justice, and make a real effort to understand why certain people have done certain things, and work with them to make sure they won’t do it again.

  • Darryl Pearce

    …circles of control. Out of our hands. We can only do so much.
    For you, Mr Clark, you’re doing a lot. I commend you.

  • M Groesbeck

    In a (nominally) democratic society, though, government power, official or otherwise, *is* under public control, meaning there is also public responsibility. A prisoner who tortures or rapes another may bear primary responsibility, but he’s acting as an extension of state power — and thus, on behalf of everyone with a stake in the state.

  • pepperjackcandy

    Any such effort would be attacked as an act of soft-hearted sympathy for those who prey on children.
    When I read this, I “heard” my mom’s voice saying, “And you’d be giving them a chance to collude.”
    My mom was a grade school teacher, a pre-school teacher, and a children’s librarian, as well as a mom, during her lifetime.
    And, yes, she also used words like “collude” in everyday conversation.

  • Rebecca Borgstrom

    It is, I think, even worse than that.
    The more horrible prison becomes, the greater the barrier against accusing and convicting the respectable; while the easier it becomes to put away those against whom one is prejudiced.
    For instance, it works against molestation *victims* twice—
    Once by putting an appalling moral burden on them; and
    Again by making everyone much less likely to believe them. (Because of that same burden.)
    I wish that our justice system would start focusing on the needs of the victims of crime and base its decisions on how to treat the convicted offenders on *that*.

  • no_hehe

    ‘It suggests that beatings and rape are, in some cases, acceptable or tolerable.’
    One of the things that has struck me over the last two decades about American society is how utterly conventional the idea of prison rape has become.
    It almost seems to have replaced the idea that getting pregnant is a just punishment for an unmarried woman.
    And yet, somehow, the idea that prison rape is simply part of the just punishment of imprisonment is deeply, deeply disturbing. We are gaily carooming down the slippery slope, rolling ever more gloriously in our self-righteous excuses while being fouled by the slime of our actions.
    And if I made a comment about soap, I’m sure all the American readers would instantly assume a connection to prison.
    Sickening.

  • John H.

    Most excellent post!

  • Luighseach

    I think if there really was political will to make the american prisons what they are supposed to be, then they would be looking at the differences between prisons in other countries that are different. When they are not, it can only mean one thing: Their priorities are not there, for whatever reason.

  • Jesurgislac

    What I heard about how the prisoners in New Orleans jail were treated when New Orleans was “evacuated” – left behind to drown or survive – struck me like something out of a horror novel. (Well, a specific horror novel: The Stand.)
    It could be argued (I wouldn’t, but you could) that it was up to the people living in New Orleans to leave, and if they didn’t (no matter that the vast majority of those who didn’t go, couldn’t afford to) that was their “free choice”.
    But no one in the world could argue that if someone is locked up in jail, in a city about to be destroyed by a hurricane, that they’re staying out of “free choice” – they’re staying because no one cares whether they live or die. These included the prisoners on remand, who hadn’t been convicted of anything.
    The solution, I gather, is sometimes found in putting prisoners who are at risk of rape or who have been raped into solitary confinement. It is never proposed to put anyone who commits rape into solitary confinement. That men in prison commit rape just seems to be taken for granted.

  • Jesurgislac

    From The NewStandard, 2006:Studies by rights groups have documented the prevalence of sexual abuse and rape in women’s prisons across the country. The majority of guards in women’s prisons across the country are men, according to an analysis by Human Rights Watch, which also found that male guards sexually assault female prisoners or manipulate them into sex with promises of extra privileges, family visits or points toward early release.
    A 1996 Human Rights Watch report on the matter notes that “virtually every prisoner [interviewed for the analysis] who had lodged a complaint of sexual misconduct faced retaliation by the accused officer, his colleagues or even other prisoners These punishments took the form of write-ups for sexual misconduct, the loss of ‘good time’ accrued toward an early parole, or prolonged periods of disciplinary segregation.”
    If no one cares whether prisoners live or die, still less does anyone care whether prisoners are raped – the article describes the difficulty deliberately set in the way of prisoners bringing suit against the prison even when a guard has committed rape: even when an inmate’s rape by a guard leads to a visit to the prison infirmary.

  • hapax

    Jesu: “But no one in the world could argue that if someone is locked up in jail, in a city about to be destroyed by a hurricane, that they’re staying out of “free choice” ”
    I’d like to think that — that no one in the world could argue that, I mean. But I live surrounded by people who would argue exactly that, that “if they didn’t want to be in that jsil, they shouldn’t have done the crime that put them there.” “What if they were wrongly convicted, or hadn’t even been tried yet?” I might say. “Well, then, they shouldn’t’ve done whatever it was that made people think they were guilty.”
    Keep in mind, these are the same people who think that thousands of residents of New Orleans were killed because God didn’t like the bars in the French Quarter (which oddly enough, survived pretty well), and hundreds of thousands of brown folks killed in Indonesia to give us white Christian types an opportunity to be “compassionate” to the survivors.
    Vengeance may be the Lord’s, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us aren’t supposed to pass the popcorn and cheer on our team, right?

  • Jesurgislac

    Hapax: I’d like to think that — that no one in the world could argue that, I mean. But I live surrounded by people who would argue exactly that, that “if they didn’t want to be in that jsil, they shouldn’t have done the crime that put them there.” “What if they were wrongly convicted, or hadn’t even been tried yet?” I might say. “Well, then, they shouldn’t’ve done whatever it was that made people think they were guilty.”
    :-(

  • Scott

    One of the things that has struck me over the last two decades about American society is how utterly conventional the idea of prison rape has become.
    It’s OK if you’re a Democrat:
    Here’s what California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said at a press conference about Enron Corp. Chairman Kenneth Lay: “I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.”‘
    Here’s why Lockyer should be removed from his office of public trust: First, because as the chief law enforcement officer of the largest state in the nation, he not only has admitted that rape is a regular feature of the state’s prison system, but also that he considers rape a part of the punishment he can inflict on others.
    Second, because he has publicly stated that he would like to personally arrange the rape of a Texas businessman who has not even been charged with any illegal behavior….
    the state is — we are –
    I am not the state. If I am the state, the convicted molester is the state and is just as responsible for his getting raped in prison as I am. I agree prison rape is wrong; just don’t give me any of this “we are the govt and the govt is us” bullshit.
    I am NOT the state.
    I have no experience in, and know very little about, the administration of prisons. It baffles me that they should be such violent, gang-controlled, drug-infested places. I have a hard time grasping how it is that such institutions — places where every meal and movement is monitored and controlled — are so lawless.
    Because govt does what’s best for govt. A lesson that applies to prisons and social programs.
    Grouping of different types of offenders together (and *especially* the grouping of prisoners with a history of violence with those who are imprisoned on non-violent drug charges) also serves the social function of promoting violence as a survival reflex among working-class men of color, which makes justification of extensive use of police violence *outside* of prison easier to justify to white citizens.
    Solzhenitsyn writes how Soviet camps used criminals to control the ‘politicals’ (in our case, those who ran afoul of the War on Drugs). The state, which survives off of what it can extract from people by violence and threats of violence, sees street criminals as natural allies. You can see the same thing in Fred’s calls for “hate crime” legislation, where common criminal violence meets a lesser punishment than violence for the wrong political reasons.

  • Scott

    U.S. prisons tend to function in a very specific sort of way — leaders of prison gangs (and “dominant” prisoners more generally) act as de facto (if unofficial) agents of the state. A strict hierarchy among prisoners based on violence, intimidation and rape is actually encouraged by the prison administration as long as it is directed against other prisoners and as long as it is judged controllable.
    Again, the State, which Fred is eager to consider himself part of as it gives him the collective identity he craves, sees common criminals as natural allies to keep the cattle nice and controlled., just like Fred sees common criminals as being morally better and deserving of lesser punishment as ‘hate’ criminals. All a mugger does is forcibly extract wealth from one of the cattle, and what leftist or government can have a problem w/ that?
    Fred is the state (by his own admission) and Fred thinks like the state (common criminals are more useful than ‘political’ criminals).

  • Scott

    BTW, if you want to do something other than posture against ShrubCo, you could always donate to Stop Prison Rape.

  • Jeff

    irst, … he considers rape a part of the punishment he can inflict on others.
    Ken Lay was never going to have to be worried about rape and Lockyear knew it. If convicted, Lay was going to a white-collar prison (“Club Fed”) and not to the general population.
    Second, because he has publicly stated that he would like to personally arrange the rape of a Texas businessman who has not even been charged with any illegal behavior….
    And here we see the priorities of the libertarian mind: some poor, li’l “Texan businessman” (who, coincidently had stolen millions of dollars from thousands of people, and employed staff who laughed about it) deserves our pity, and protection from rape; the average kid from the ghetto, who can’t afford a defense attorney, deserves what he gets.
    From M Groesbeck, way upthread: There *is* one class of criminals which is punished separately, though — the white-collar mega-thieves, frauds, etc. (at least, the few who are ever prosecuted). Not only white-collar but *white* prisoners generally tend to be diverted towards less-violent lower-security prisons, allowing for easier reintegration into the less-directly-controlled life outside of prison.
    But this gets me boiling mad, every time I see it (always said as a way of ducking responsibility):
    I am not the state. If I am the state, the convicted molester is the state and is just as responsible for his getting raped in prison as I am.
    Libertarians avoid being part of the system, and thereby become responsible for the worst parts of it, by inaction. “I am not the state” is pure BS. If you live here, benefit by the rules and laws that protect you, you are part of the state. You don’t want to be part of the state, too bad, because you are.
    Libertarians are part of the group this entry was written for, and they will never EVER admit that. Scum.

  • Fred

    This is one of those times when I get to agree with Scott — at least about Stop Prison Rape, which is a group worthy of support.
    As a proponent of democracy, and a citizen of a democratic country, however, I’m afraid I can’t agree with Scott that solipsism and tyranny are the only options. But I’ll try to accomodate his refusal to be taken in by the tyranny of democracy, and in recognition of that I’d ask everyone to respect his wishes by remembering the following alteration of the Gettysburg Address:
    “… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people [except Scott], by the people [except Scott], for the people [except Scott], shall not perish from the earth.”

  • Fred

    Oh, and Scott, friendly advice: Don’t try that line if you get called for jury duty.
    Declaring oneself to be an atomistic, detached and irresponsibe entity wholly separate from the rest of society is not considered a valid excuse.

  • hapax

    Wowzers. Remind me never to get Fred mat at me.
    Thought I’d share a thread from a librarian list I participate in. It seems one public librarian in Florida refuses to ILL (inter-library loan) romances to prison libraries, even though they are heavily requested, because prisoners are mostly male and everyone knows that men don’t read romances, they “just masturbate to them.” She thinks it inappropriate to “waste taxpayer resources in this way.” (I’m not sure if the resources here are the books, or, well, the sin of Onan, “who spilled his seed upon the ground…”)
    Perhaps she considers prison rape preferable? Or favors castration?
    At any rate, I thought that Scott would enjoy knowing that there is someone out there who is even more worried than he is about what is done with tax money.

  • Avedon

    Actually, one of the common things that happens to convicted “pedophiles” if left in the general prison population is that they get killed rather quickly.
    And it’s worth remembering that “proven” is a rather elastic word in the case of people accused of child abuse – your life is pretty much ruined before you ever get to trial, and courts and juries tend to err on the side of conviction even more than they do in other sorts of crimes – even when the “evidence” is frankly fantastic and includes genuinely impossible “facts”.
    Of course, being placed in solitary “for your own protection” is another kind of torture.
    And let’s be honest about most of those people who have been busted for looking at child porn – they weren’t arrested because they hurt anyone, they were arrested for looking at pictures, very possibly out of curiosity or for other reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to hurt children. Those are the people we are throwing into prisons to have harm done to them which we have no evidence they would ever visit on anyone else of any age.
    And, of course, the most important factors in whether you are raped in prison are less to do with whether you committed a “worse” crime than whether you are vulnerable. Pedophiles (and convicted porn-viewers) tend not to be terribly violent toward adults – much like pot-smokers and other non-violent people who are put in prison. The victims of prison abuse are less likely to be the “horrible” people than people who pose no threat to society. (The guy who started Stop Prison Rape was not in there for any kind of violent crime, but he was raped, got AIDS, and died of it. He was a frequent poster to talk.rape on Usenet, and you can probably still find his posts in the Google archives.)
    But innocence isn’t the issue. And “I don’t want to be responsible for that” isn’t even the sole issue.
    The issue is that if it’s okay to rape and kill,or facilitate the raping and killing of other people, then why should we bother to make raping and killing crimes?
    Rapists and murderers often claim to have justification for raping and killing people – they were “provoked”, the other person “deserved it”.
    What makes it different when it’s you rather than them? Why is your outrage at their bad acts any more justified than their outrage was that caused them to commit their bad acts?
    Either raping and killing people is wrong or it’s not. Either the idea that “some people deserve it” is wrong or it’s not. It’s one thing to want to discourage it and prevent it – and keep people who do it from continuing to do it – but it’s quite another thing to faciliate a system (either actively or by neglect) that you know results in people getting raped, maimed, and killed.
    They think they have a “reason” for raping and killing people. What’s your excuse?

  • Jesurgislac

    Hapax: Perhaps she considers prison rape preferable? Or favors castration?
    While agreeing this is an idiotic example of prejudice against (a) male masturbation (b) prison inmates, are you suggesting that if men in prisons could masturbate, they’d be somehow less likely to rape?
    Some prison guards rape the inmates, because they can.
    Some prisoners rape fellow inmates, because they can.
    No one has ever shown any correlation between inability to masturbate and rape.

  • Majromax

    Declaring oneself to be an atomistic, detached and irresponsibe entity wholly separate from the rest of society is not considered a valid excuse.
    No, but The Fountainhead notwithstanding, no sane attorney would let you be on a jury for their case with an attitude like that.

  • Scott

    Ken Lay was never going to have to be worried about rape and Lockyear knew it.
    State officials have no business making prison rape jokes, yes or no?
    Face it, Lockyear was a politically useful liberal and Lay was a political enemy and that is why this high ranking state law enforcement official could make prison rape jokes w/ total impunity. The fact that this makes rape a ‘laughing’ matter (which, if you haven’t noticed, hurts other prisoners also) doesn’t matter.
    And here we see the priorities of the libertarian mind: some poor, li’l “Texan businessman” (who, coincidently had stolen millions of dollars from thousands of people, and employed staff who laughed about it) deserves our pity, and protection from rape
    Hmmmm…. You aren’t bothered about jokes about rape because of what Ken Lay did. Then, to prove your moral superiority, you will condemn conservatives for not being bothered about rape and torture because of what terrorists and child molesters do.
    How is what Ken Lay did relevant to a prison rape joke?
    Everyone deserves protection from prison rape, even the political enemies of the left. Too bad Ken Lay wasn’t a homosexual – as a member of a politically useful people grouping, the left might have considered Lockyear’s comments to be encouraging a “hate crime”. Again, common crime is just income redistribution, and is to be judged from how it benefits the state (whether keeping prisoners in line or redefining violence against politically useful people groups as “hate crimes” in order to maintain and reward their political support).
    “I am not the state” is pure BS.
    I won’t be forced to think of myself as part of your collective hive mind. The state gets away w/ things like setting up prisoners to be raped because of the propaganda about it’s “legitimacy”. What is that supposed legitimacy based on? Your belief that the state is somehow ‘us’.
    I am not the state. I won’t worship your god.
    Is the molester part of the state? Does he then share guilt for his own rape?
    Oh, and Scott, friendly advice: Don’t try that line if you get called for jury duty.
    I’ve never doubted that I’d face prison (and probably rape as a nonviolent offender) if I resist the dictates of Fred and his almighty, ‘compassionate’ state. The fact that it will happen doesn’t make it right.

  • Scott

    The whole Lockyear things shows that the left is about mere power when it claims principle. Y’all had a chance to hold one of your own accountable, but chose not to, because admitting fault exists on your side undercuts your whole Bush-esque “we’re pure good and they’re pure evil” political argument. You chose to protect Lockyear (and thus your own power) instead of standing up for what you claim to consider right. Just like you did w/ Reno and the Davidians she slaughtered.
    Now, the left will rationalize that w/ comments saying basically “we can’t hold ourselves to a high standard, because that would be unilaterally disarming us against the Big Bad GOP – their pure evil forces us to allow corruption on our side, damn them.” You condemn me for not considering myself responsible for State evil, then will blame GOP evil for ‘forcing’ you to give Lockyear a pass instead of accepting responsibility for him and for your reaction to him.
    I have to accept responsibility, but your struggle for political power means you don’t. That is why you are all vermin.

  • none

    And let’s be honest about most of those people who have been busted for looking at child porn – they weren’t arrested because they hurt anyone, they were arrested for looking at pictures
    Are you saying that child porn is a victimless crime?
    Try telling that to the kids in the pictures.

  • Avedon

    No, I’m saying that looking at pictures isn’t what hurts people. Making child porn by abusing children is what hurts people. A lot of people look at the pictures for a variety of other reasons, sometimes sheer curiosity, sometimes as a substitute for acting on impulses, sometimes for research – but under the law, all of those reasons are treated like actually making child pornography (and abusing children).

  • Erick Oppeen

    My own take on the “child porn/child molestation” hysteria is that, all too often, mountains are made out of molehills. I’ve heard of parents being arrested for “child porno” for taking pictures of their under-two-years-old children in the bathtub.
    And even though I’m (by the standards of this blog’s commenters; I’d disagree, but let’s not go there) so right-wing that I make Joseph McCarthy look like Leon Trotsky on acid, I am quite a bit more outraged about prison rape and its casual acceptance than most of the good little leftists are. The crack about Ken Lay was symptomatic—at the time it was made, Lay hadn’t even been accused of anything, (the Enron collapse hadn’t started) but was being used as a scapegoat for California’s idiotic energy policies.
    As for a solution—one thing that has occurred to me is to separate, not “misdemeanants” from felons, but violent from non-violent criminals. The reason that white-collar offenders are sent to “country-club” prisons isn’t because they’re white or wealthy—they’re non-violent, unlikely to re-offend, (once you’ve been convicted of a white-collar crime, your chances of being employed again in a position that allows you to re-offend are nil) and minimum-security prisons are a lot less expensive to run than maximum-security. They closed Alcatraz down because it cost too much to keep it going, and most of the guys there weren’t the sort of super-gangsters it was intended for; one warden commented that the vast majority of Alcatraz cons were “punks who’d never had a headline in their lives.”
    One thing I like pointing out to people who casually accept prison rape is that a lot of victims of it are going to be back on the streets one day—many of them burning with murderous rage against “society,” and more than willing to get their own back, whether by raping women to “prove” their masculinity, or victimizing people in other ways.

  • hapax

    @Jesu: “are you suggesting that if men in prisons could masturbate, they’d be somehow less likely to rape?”
    I realize that I’m now objectively pro-rape in your eyes, and this really wasn’t the point of the post, but, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if men (or women) were prevented from masturbation, they’d be MORE likely to rape. Not a lot, but some.
    I mean rape is about a lot of things: violence, and power, and humiliation. But it’s also about getting your rocks off.
    It doesn’t play into every rape by any means; but — from the accounts that I have read from prisoners and guards — there is a significant component of one part of your brain saying, “Hey, nice piece of ass”, with insufficient counterbalance from the rest of your brain saying “No, that will get me into trouble”; “No, that’s another human being who deserves to be treated with respect”; “No, there’s no feasible way to do it here”; or even “No, my Sunday School teacher said Teh Gay makes Baby Jesus cry.”
    “Some prison guards rape the inmates, because they can.
    Some prisoners rape fellow inmates, because they can.”
    I don’t say that this wrong, but I think it is both simplistic and unhelpful. People CAN do a lot of horrible things, but they DON’T do all of them. Why? Because they WON’T.
    I CAN rape chickens, you know. I have chickens in the backyard. They’re MY chickens (in a very libertarian speciesist sort of way.) There’s no law against chicken-rape in my state. I would consider it morally wrong and soul-poisoning, but hey, I’ve done things I consider much more heinous and managed to continue living with myself. So why don’t I?
    Because, fundamentally, I don’t want to rape chickens.
    (Oh, sweet Cthulhu, I’ve just sent Duane to the keyboard…)
    In other words, it isn’t just about opportunity. It’s about choice.
    Over in t’other thread, you keep saying that the only way to stop rape is to convince all men (and women) that rape is wrong, and it is unacceptable. That it is always a wrong choice.
    Unless you can completely remove from the penitential system all contact with other human beings (which would be unacceptably cruel) or all vestiges of heirarchical structure (which would be impractical), there’s always going to be an opportunity for prison rape.
    Therefore, you have to work on the “will” side. Unless you think that guards and prisoners, as a class, are irredeemably depraved, in a way that the rest of humanity is not?
    “No one has ever shown any correlation between inability to masturbate and rape. ”
    Wow. You mean there are actually studies on this topic? Cool. Could you send me the cite? I’d love to see their experimental protocols.
    (I ask, because I know that you, unlikely me, would NEVER be guilty of an easily misinterpreted empty rhetorical flourish…)

  • Hob

    Scott: what’s this about giving Lockyear a pass because he’s a Democrat? I thought his remark was disgusting, and I’m more or less a liberal, more or less a Democrat. I’ve seen exactly two other disapproving references to it online; one from an American liberal, one from a Brit. In non-online life, I didn’t see anyone react to it at all, including his political opponents. People hear those “jokes” all the time, from Democrats, from Republicans, from themselves.
    You’re right, he wasn’t denounced all over the mass media… or all over the lefty blogs… or the righty blogs… or the libertarian blogs. That’s not because he was a “useful liberal”; Americans in general tend not to give a crap about this. That was Fred’s point, and that’s a disgrace.
    If your point was to make Fred seem like a hypocrite because he didn’t bring up Lockyear and denounce him before you did, and didn’t immediately change the subject to Lockyear to prove that he’s not a hypocrite and say “oh no no no I hate that bad man too” in response to your bizarrely hostile post, then you have a very strange (but, sadly, not unusual) idea of what arguments are for.

  • Hob

    Hapax: without going into unnecessary detail, may I suggest that when you take a man’s romance novels away, you may not be exactly preventing him from masturbating. Some of us may need more help than others, but the human spirit will find a way… somehow.

  • Jesurgislac

    I don’t say that this wrong, but I think it is both simplistic and unhelpful.
    As I think arguing that if only male prisoners could masturbate they wouldn’t rape is simplistic and unhelpful.
    Boy, I miss when we used to just argue about abortion.
    Wow. You mean there are actually studies on this topic? Cool. Could you send me the cite? I’d love to see their experimental protocols.
    (I ask, because I know that you, unlikely me, would NEVER be guilty of an easily misinterpreted empty rhetorical flourish…)
    That’s possibly one of the most roundabout ways of admitting that your crack about masturbation being preferable to rape being ” an easily misinterpreted empty rhetorical flourish”, but it’s also graceful, sharp, and to the point: yes, my claim that people have shown that inability to masturbate has no relationship to rape was also a rhetorical flourish.
    (Boy, I miss when people just used to ignore Scott and he’d go away.)

  • Kirala

    The trouble with our prison administration is much the same as the trouble Fred’s pointed out in torture systems: the job is so wearing on decent people that psychopaths end up being an unnaturally large portion of the staff. Or so I’m told by those involved. Not all sick, evil people end up on the wrong side of the law [insert favorite political target here].
    Honestly, I’m not sure how prison problems can be fixed. You can separate the dangerous people from the safer ones – a tricky task, since a murderer might be a one-time crime-of-passion offender with a perfectly good conscience while an embezzler might be an uncaught rapist. If you somehow manage the miraculous task of separating salvageable from psychopathic, you’re still left with prison guards forced to work with the worst evils of the world – sounds like a fun job, doesn’t it? My desire to be better than Jeffrey Dahmer would likely be tested sorely by being in his presence day in and day out. It would be a natural reaction to start detaching and letting the prisoners sort it out amongst themselves, by whatever means they chose.
    And, of course, fail to sort out the antisocial psychopaths, and they tend to impose an antisocial psychopathic hierarchy in the prison with much the same effect. Only “manageable”, because most of the people actually have a shred of decency and compassion and a sense that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” makes for a nicer world than “do unto others before they do unto you”.
    So, having established that the root problem isn’t likely to go away, I have to hope that people who know the details have ideas how to manage the problem better than it’s managed now.

  • hapax

    Jesu: “Boy, I miss when we used to just argue about abortion.”
    I don’t. I skipped church this morning, and trading barbs with you does a much better job of both keeping my mind sharp and forcing me to examing my assumptions and prejudices.
    (That was sincere, btw. No sarcasm at all.)

  • Hob

    Lockyear = Lockyer. Whoops.
    And, Jes, I agree that it’s not really productive for everyone to keep responding to someone who starts every conversation with some remark about how everyone here is a verminous power-mad sheep, etc. However, this time Scott did at least contribute a link to Stop Prison Rape – even if, in his rage against commie straw-men, he failed to notice that Fred is on his side and hadn’t said anything about “conservatives” at all.
    And it’s true that Democrats should’ve been more vocal about Lockyer’s idiocy – everyone should’ve, too. Actually from Wikipedia I see there was more reaction than I noticed at the time. One of those I missed, which makes my statement about “even his political opponents” not entirely true, was from the Cato Institute – which, not surprisingly, mentioned the need for prison reform rather briefly before going on at length about how businessmen are being unfairly singled out.
    Lockyer later apologized in the L.A. Times, and claimed he was very involved in efforts against prison rape – which I think was an exaggeration, but since he bothered to say it, he must’ve thought at least a few of his Democratic constituents might indeed be pissed about this.

  • Professor M

    I won’t be forced to think of myself as part of your collective hive mind. The state gets away w/ things like setting up prisoners to be raped because of the propaganda about it’s “legitimacy”. What is that supposed legitimacy based on? Your belief that the state is somehow ‘us’.
    As long as you participate in the state and/or benefit from the institutions of the state (including the monetary and property systems as well as public roads, defense, any aspect of the legal system, etc.), you are part of the state whether you want to be or not, and whether the state is legitimate or not. This is true in both practical and philosophical/ethical senses.

  • ako

    My desire to be better than Jeffrey Dahmer would likely be tested sorely by being in his presence day in and day out.
    Plus, “better than Jeffrey Dahmer” sets the bar so low. Seriously, a lot of people do keep their morals around people they hate by, in part, not wanting to sink to their level. And if you spend your days dealing with (to bring up some of the people you might run into in a maximum security prison), a serial child molester, a guy who likes to cut up and murder hookers for fun, and the guy who’s always getting his gang together to rape the new prisoner, and it’s very easy to put up a lot, or do a lot, and feel quite secure that you’re still better than the people you’re mistreating/allowing to be mistreated.
    Of course, there are also non-violent offenders, wrongfully convicted people, and the difficulty in correlating someone’s moral level with the specific crimes they were convicted for, but the common response to this is cynicism. It’s in each prisoner’s best interest to be seen, by as many people with power over them as possible, as more sympathetic. Without any way to accurately judge, and with multiple specific examples of prisoners manipulating them, a lot of prison staff default to assuming that the prisoner is at least as bad as their record would indicate.
    I am not the state.
    I’m getting flashbacks to high school, and the sort of really annoying white adolescent (usually girls with rich liberal parents) who would declare, “I renounce my white privilege!” and subsequently consider themselves as having no connection with or responsibility for any white racism, no matter how much everyone else saw them as white and gave them the full benefits of being a white person, and how readily they accepted the benefits. Because if you say you’ve renounced the privilege, and don’t do any practical acts to avoid it, you can get all those lovely benefits and tell yourself they don’t mean anything except that you’re more worthy than the people who don’t get treated that well.

  • hapax

    Scott: “I am not the state.”
    Magritte: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”
    Libertarianism is the new Surrealism!

  • PepperjackCandy

    Scott: “I am not the state.”
    Magritte: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”
    Libertarianism is the new Surrealism!
    At the very least, Scott’s free of delusions that he’s Louis XIV.

  • ako

    Would Scott be the Anti-Louis XIV?
    Does that mean we can presume his last name is a mountain range?

  • Jesurgislac

    Does that mean we can presume his last name is a mountain range?
    A valley.

  • VirusHead

    I’ve named this blog for the “Open Mind Blog” Award. Yes, it is a virally-spread award meme. However, it also creates a network of referred blogs in which demonstrated respect towards others, research and consideration of opposing views, free-flowing conversation with commenters, and an overall spirit of civility and openness is evident.
    This blog is eminently qualified on all points. Thank you for that.

  • Tonio

    Two really dumb questions:
    1. Why aren’t prisons designed to offer solitary confinement in the first place? Seems to me that such a design might reduce or even eliminate prison violence.
    2. Do you find it ironic that murderers and rapists, who presumably have no regard for their fellow humans, are morally outraged by pedophiles?
    From my admittedly uninformed perspective, I would propose three reforms for the prison system – first, solitary confinement for the violent offenders; second, heavy fines and forced labor for the non-violent offenders like white-collar criminals, to save prison space for the violent offenders; third, lifetime isolation for the crime of first-degree murder.

  • Joe Propinka

    So, uh, what would be done with rapists, pedophiles, etc. in the Land of Libertarian Fun?
    Would it be private prisons with even less oversight than government-run prisons? Letting them run free? Lynch mobs?
    What, pray tell, replaces criminal law and law enforcement in Libertarian Land, where there is no government at all?

  • none

    Thank you, you have reminded me to make my intended donation to Stop Prison Rape.

  • Drak Pope

    What, pray tell, replaces criminal law and law enforcement in Libertarian Land, where there is no government at all?
    Magic.
    2. Do you find it ironic that murderers and rapists, who presumably have no regard for their fellow humans, are morally outraged by pedophiles?
    Who says that they do?
    Okay, I’m sure some murderers and rapists are appalled by child molestors, but I’ll bet that most just beat them up because they know that society considers them (the molestors) the lowest of the low and won’t consider them worthy of pity. After all, who’s going to stop them from killing someone that everybody hates anyway?

  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    “I wish that our justice system would start focusing on the needs of the victims of crime and base its decisions on how to treat the convicted offenders on *that*.”
    Now there’s a terrific idea. Yes, let’s return to the morality of Danegeld, in which “victims” get a bigger voice than anyone else in the question of how justice is organized.
    I’ve been a crime victim. I would have done a terrible job of sensibly sorting out what penalty should have been imposed on the people who victimized me. This is why we have a whole big, complicated system involving people trained to be “lawyers” and “judges” — because experience taught us that letting the victim specify the punishment resulted, not in justice, but in further barbarity. Oddly enough, human beings in the 12th and 13th centuries were capable of working this out. Why isn’t Rebecca Borgstrom?
    Oh, wait, because all moral progress since 1100 is liberal bullshit, and we should return to a world of trial by combat, rule by big guys on horseback, and a “justice system [that] would start focusing on the needs of the victims of crime.” Mmm boy yes, Rebecca, bring it on! That modern nuanced morality stuff is so boring.

  • Steve

    Rebecca said: “I wish that our justice system would start focusing on the needs of the victims of crime and base its decisions on how to treat the convicted offenders on *that*.”
    Patrick said: Now there’s a terrific idea. Yes, let’s return to the morality of Danegeld, in which “victims” get a bigger voice than anyone else in the question of how justice is organized.
    Patrick, you are reading much into what Rebecca said. She never said victims should determine the punishment. I wouldn’t advocate for that either.
    However, if someone steals my car, why are they fined by the state and/or sent to prison by the state? Shouldn’t one of the goals to be to make restitution to me?
    Personally, I’m with the restorative justice crowd…which says criminal justice shouldn’t be primarily about punishment, but about helping to restore the offender to community (if possible) in a way helps them become a non-offending member of the community.


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