Exile Ghettos as an Alternative to Incarceration

The debate around ideal incarceration levels comes down to the tradeoff between the harms of depriving prisoners of liberty and the harm of subjecting the general population to their predation. What if there was a way to keep the general population safe from their predation while giving certain prisoners most of their liberty?

First, take underdeveloped land somewhere reasonably close to a major highway and eminent domain the existing residents, then surround it with a barbed-wire electric fence and guard towers, like your typical prison. Developers are told to turn the land inside into a city, businesses are told to build factories, call centers, ect. in the ghetto. Prisoners are confined there and guards prevent weapons from entering the area, but otherwise nothing much changes: prisoners are free within the confined area, outsiders and come and go as they like. The guards would double as a local police force. There’s no getting around the similarity of this to the Holocaust ghetto. There are about 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons today, supposing half qualify for transfer, you can fill an “exile ghetto” with 750,000 people. One large ghetto is better than several small ones, as area rises faster than circumference, saving on fencing costs, and a larger ghetto will benefit from economies of scale.

How is this different than a prison? Ghetto inmates can eat whatever they can afford to buy, work for whoever is willing to employ them, live wherever they can afford to pay rent. If inmates’ families were willing to do so, they could move to the ghetto. Inmates might suffer poverty and unemployment, but it would be the same kind of poverty and unemployment they’d suffer outside the ghetto. The ghetto would restrict their mobility(quickly developing tragic dirt) and they would have to pay higher prices for goods brought into the ghetto due to the expense of searching for contraband and the reluctance of outsiders to do business inside the ghetto. If the government was feeling generous, it could give a meager universal income to the inmates to offset these costs, a quite small expense compared to the cost of conventional incarceration. There’d be a lot of violence within the ghetto, but it would be directed against other criminals and those non-criminals who choose to take on the risk of living there, the general population would have nothing to fear as they would if criminals were simply released. The ghetto might be criminogenic for some of its inmates as they’d be affected by the culture of violence inside the ghetto, but the same can be said for modern prisons. It’s hard to argue that inmates would prefer prison to the ghetto, if they did, they could always be granted the opportunity to serve their time in a standard prison if they chose.

This would make “incarceration” much cheaper, and when you make something cheaper people buy more of it, tempting states to “incarcerate” more people and for longer. Might this be a decent trade-off, longer sentences in a much better environment? If not, the federal government could respond by charging states far more than it really costs to send prisoners to the ghetto, to avoid overuse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s