My mind (and sense of conscience) was blown by an article in n + 1 on the horror that is the American prison system. I won’t go into the horrifying detail, but suffice it to say that the wrongs done to small-time crooks and mere drug addicts, all with the knowledge of — and collusion with — prison authorities, are grotesque, far, far beyond the notion of “paying one’s debt to society.” As writer Christopher Glazek puts it, “Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted.” And shifted inside the prison system.
One avenue of his exploration of what to do about this moral crisis is something I would love to see a thinker like Sam Harris tackle, as it challenges basic ideas of what it is to live in a safe, policed society. We have to, Glazek explains, distinguish between those who need to be dealt with in a manner that does not involve their utter dehumanization, and those who are genuine dangers to their fellow humans.
An important part of that answer has to be that we must simply put up with an increased level of risk in our daily lives. But what about Charles Manson? Surely something must be done to prevent Charles Manson from chopping up celebrities.
If, in the popular imagination, the primary purpose of prisons is to keep us safe from (the vanishingly small number of) people like Charles Manson, then we should simply kill Charles Manson. Prison abolitionists should be ready to advocate a massive expansion of the death penalty if that’s what it takes to move the discussion forward. A prisonless society where murderers were systematically executed and rapists were automatically castrated wouldn’t be the most humane society imaginable, but it would be light-years ahead of the status quo.
I’m going to need to chew over this one for a while. Check it out yourself and see where you land.