2.3 million people find themselves behind bars in the U.S. Here’s the quick way to get that number down to… zero. (Give or take a few.)
By Lee Camp
May 27th, 2021
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of Lee Camp’s analysis of mass incarceration in the U.S. Read the first part here.
A few weeks ago I covered the mind-blowing facts about American prisons that should make anyone and everyone rethink/detest/abhor the entire institution. Now, I want to examine the reasons people find themselves locked up in the largest prison state in the world (the Land of the Free) and see if we can’t decrease the number of inmates to something more reasonable …like, zero. Or one. …One guy who’s a real grade-A asshole.
I’m well aware that many of you are already yelling, “But what about murderers and rapists?!” We’ll get to them in a minute. Keep your pantaloons fastened. Besides, “What about murderers and rapists?!” is a really abnormal thing to yell at something you’re reading. Come to think of it, maybe you’re not fit for society. Maybe we should lock you up.
First, out of our 2.3 million-person prison population, let’s talk about those not yet convicted.
According to a 2020 report by PrisonPolicy.org, 470,000 of those held in local American jails have not yet been convicted. This begs the question: what happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Wasn’t that a thing bored teachers taught us in third grade classes while we secretly focused on trying to flirt with the girl/boy next to us? Clearly the not-yet-guilties need to be released seeing as they haven’t yet been proven to have done anything.
Boom! You just released 20% of our prison population. They’re no longer prisoners. Doesn’t that feel good? You just released from bondage nearly half a million human souls. You should feel like the Moses of thought experiments right now. (True, you did it with a little help from me, but I’ll graciously let you take most of the credit.)
Now it gets a little trickier. Next up — drug offenders. Yes, I’m referring to those dastardly 328,000 convicted drug offenders who account for 18% of our swollen prison population. Yet, we shouldn’t have those people locked up because drug problems are a health issue, not a crime issue. Furthermore, prisons really only have two main goals — either rehabilitation or punishment. If rehabilitation is your directive, then drug offenders should be sent to rehab centers, not cages. If punishment is your goal, then drug offenders don’t need to be punished because they’re already being punished. Many say they’re harming themselves with drugs. We don’t need to harm them more. Doing so is akin to walking up to a cutter and exclaiming, “Cutting yourself is terrible! To teach you a lesson, I’m gonna spray lemon juice on you.”
At this point some people blurt out, “But drug users do harm to others! They steal and break stuff.” Well, even if that were true, those activities are illegal. It’s illegal to steal — so, sure, arrest them for the stealing. We don’t need to double arrest them. And if they aren’t committing other crimes, then we shouldn’t arrest them for peacefully harming themselves. Isn’t that the right of any American — to peacefully harm ourselves? That’s half the reason I get up in the morning. I can’t wait to find new ways to harm myself. Today maybe it’ll be whiskey and partaking in an amateur rugby match. Tomorrow perhaps cocaine, bungee jumping, and unprotected sex (at the same time!)
To go back to the whole “drug addicts steal” idea for a second, ask yourself: Do they steal more than the thieves on Wall Street? Of course not. But investment bankers aren’t arrested for gambling on people’s mortgages.
Inmate 1: What’d the cops bust ya for?
Inmate 2: Eh, I had 100 subprime mortgages hidden up my rectum.
Next, some people will argue, “Well, drug doers hurt the social fabric. They ruin our community.” Even if that were true, all kinds of people hurt the social fabric much more than someone on drugs — polluters, bankers, lobbyists, bad drivers, dudes with no necks playin’ Creed real loud — the list goes on. But we don’t arrest them for any of those things unless they commit some other crime. So the same should be true for drug use.
Alright, so we just freed all the drug users from jail and sentenced them to a rehabilitation plan instead. Then that leaves the drug dealers.
Well, if drugs were decriminalized, then drug dealing would not be the brutal activity it is. Besides, what’s the most harmful drug in the country by amount of damage done? Alcohol. Therefore, one could argue, the most harmful drug dealers are those serving alcohol. But — here’s the thing, fair reader — I’m a fan of alcohol, and I’m a fan of anyone who sells it to me. Those people are my friends. So on behalf of them, I proclaim, “Drug dealers are good people!”
So all those non-violent drug offenders must be freed. At this point, we’ve released 34% of America’s prisoners. (Gee willikers, at this rate, when we’re through, the U.S. won’t even be one of the world’s greatest human rights abusers. Then what will we put on our souvenir mugs?)
Next up: Non-violent property crimes — burglary, robbery, theft, and fraud . Essentially the stuff teens do on a good, fun Saturday night. Let’s be honest — burglary, theft, and fraud is simply the American way. The entirety of Wall Street is based on it. In fact, it’s an open secret that the stock market is the dictionary definition of a Ponzi Scheme. It’s a giant fraud to extract wealth from the not-so rich and give it to the already very rich. Then of course there’s the trillions in tax havens, trillions of dollars of wage-theft, the sweetheart deals, insider trading, funny math, tax loopholes, greased palms, shell companies, exaggerated numbers, golden parachutes, and probably some golden showers, too. The “property criminals” or “street criminals” in prison constitute a rounding error compared to the breathtaking theft that goes on by the rich — most of it legally (made legal by corrupt legislatures over the years).
Hell, even the police in this country steal more from people nowadays than burglars do. It’s time to accept that being a thieving bastard is simply the American way. Or, if you’re not okay with that, then maybe one should ponder the fact that if we ended inequality by changing our socioeconomic system, there would be little to no theft.
Point is — Shazam! — that’s another 446,000 prisoners we just released.
And yes, we can still have some punishment for an asshole who breaks into your apartment and takes your signed poster of Jackass: The Movie. We can force those people to sponge bathe the elderly or clean out the sewer pipes or take Dick Cheney for his daily stroll around the block to murder a puppy. (One must remain active in retirement.)
Okay, we only have one million prisoners left. This is going spectacularly well.
There’s 44,000 juveniles locked up — almost none of them for truly awful behavior. 61% of underage prisoners are in jail for truancy, or things like being “ungovernable” (whatever that means), running away, or small crimes like vandalism. The U.S. is one of the few countries that even locks up kids for any real amount of time. So let’s get a grip on ourselves and stop that shit. Yes, we could still have places that troubled youth go to for help, but it doesn’t need to be a goddamn prison.
If we really want to call ourselves adults, we must let the children go free.
Next, the U.S. has somewhere around 60,000 people locked up in immigration detention facilities, which is fucking ridiculous (technical terminology). Locking people up because they crossed a line in a field that you told them not to? What are you twelve? Are we playing tag? Is the floor lava? Grow up.
Not to mention we wouldn’t have so many immigrants if we didn’t destroy their home countries with CIA coups and economic warfare. So if we stopped that behavior, then we wouldn’t have nearly this number of refugees and migrants. And if we don’t cease our belligerent destructive activities, then it only makes sense for the U.S. to take in those fleeing our mass destruction.
Between the juveniles and the immigrants, we’re down to only 900,000 prisoners left.
Next: The 266,000 imprisoned for “public order” crimes. As AttorneysOnDemand.net so succinctingly puts it, “Public order crimes are actions that do not conform to society’s general ideas of normal social behavior and moral values.”
Right off the bat, I can tell this is a load of bunk because what the hell are “normal social behaviors”? I find a lot of normal social behaviors awful — like putting little shoes on your tiny dog or spitting out chewing tobacco in public or owning three cars and a McMansion with a giant yard that requires 11 billion gallons of fresh water every day to keep it greener than the Jolly Green Giant’s ass or the animal torture that goes into creating the meat for a Taco Bell mystery meat Dorito Loco Taco. There’s loads of stuff categorized as “normal social behavior” that’s reprehensible, nauseating, or repulsive. In the past slavery was a normal behavior, genocide against indigenous peoples was a normal and sometimes rewarded behavior. So was slapping children across the face because they looked at you funny or marrying off your 13-year-old daughter to a strange man in exchange for a couple of goats or locking your wife in a kitchen for 10 to 20 years. Those were all normal social behaviors at one time. I don’t think I like normal social behavior.
Nowadays, most public order crimes (other than drug use) stem from prostitution, public drunkenness, and paraphilia. On any given night in America, scores of people are publicly drunk to some extent — it should only become criminal when they do something bad. But then, that’s the crime. If they beat someone up or stab a guy, that’s the crime — not the drunkenness. So you can get rid of that law against public drunkenness. We don’t need it.
Prostitution is often a deal between two consenting adults. Legalize it, make sure it’s not abusive, and then everyone benefits. I’m not saying we need to have it readily available out in the middle of the public jungle gym on a Sunday afternoon. Put it somewhere people don’t have to stare at it with their kids on the way home from the ballpark. You know, put it inside a Segway rental shop — no one’s going in there.
Then there’s paraphilia, or unusual sexual behavior like voyeurism or masturbating in public. First of all, for the truly strange, mental health care is needed — not a jail cell. If you’re caught humping a post office box that you dressed up like Richard Nixon, then prison is not gonna help you. You need a whole team of counselors instead. And if you’re jackin’ off in public, then, again, you could use someone to talk to, but also, as long as you aren’t leaving puddles around, it’s not exactly a huge problem. In fact, a few years ago a Swedish court ruled that it is indeed legal to masturbate in public as long as it’s not directed at someone specific. So there you have it. Just don’t aim the damn thing at anyone.
Alright, we just canceled the “public order” crimes. And for those that should remain crimes (like sexual harassment), how about the perpetrators pay fines, or do shitty community service, like cleaning out the elephant cages at the zoo? There’s also electronic monitoring bracelets to make sure people stay within a certain area (if you truly need to keep tabs on them).
So we’re down to 680,000 inmates. Basically all that remains are violent crimes. Well, let’s put the murderers and rapists aside for a second. We’re looking at 315,000 inmates who are in for violence that isn’t murder, rape, or sexual assault — meaning they’re in for standard assault.
Sure, there should be punishments for fighting and any form of and domestic violence, and I won’t deny that assault can be a serious thing. But when you lock someone up for years for punching a guy in a bar brawl, you just turn him into a more efficient, angrier dickhead. You basically sent him to criminal university. You’ve actually torn the social fabric more than the “criminal” did by punching someone. Sure, there should be punishments for assault. Maybe it’s a really boring anger management facility. Get creative with it. But locking people up does not have to be the default answer.
Boom! Just like that, we’re down to only 365,000 prisoners remaining. (Don’t you feel good about yourself?) Even if we left the murderers and rapists in the prisons, we’d only have 16% of the original 2.3 million American prisoners.
The next step is to decrease the insane sentences so even violent criminals receive rehabilitation rather than solitary confinement for 60 years. Pretty soon the U.S. would have the same number of prisoners as — wait for it — other countries. Wouldn’t that be crazy? Americans would be able to view ourselves like adults in the room, just like Iran or Egypt — rather than having ten times more prisoners than them. And we wouldn’t need large-scale penitentiaries because, assuming we had roughly 100,000 prisoners left, we could send a few to each city in the United States. The U.S. has 20,000 cities — so that’s only five prisoners per city. One little house in each town. That’s it. That’s all. One adorable tiny house with a few murderers and a rapist locked up in it. A couple of ’em would probably kill each other — then you’d only have two murderers and a rapist in a wee petite house in every city.
Prison abolition is truly not a crazy idea. It should be a real goal of an evolved species (if such a thing ever shows up on Earth). If prison aboltion is not a goal, it shows we’re no better than the plantation owners who claimed slavery was just the only way things could work. But a lot of people knew that wasn’t true even when slavery was commonplace. And right now, a lot of people know our prison system is a crime against humanity. We could easily abolish prisons if we just thought outside of our social engineering. We could one day see a world with no bars, and no cages.
… Except for Jeff Bezos — that unimaginable asshole needs to be immediately locked up.