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Self-labeled "Objectivists" and Private Prisons

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If you self-identify as an Objectivist, then according to Objectivism, do you believe the existence of private prisons is immoral? Ayn Rand stated that she believes in the complete separation of economics and state. Does the idea of private prisons jibe with that idea of separation?

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If you self-identify as an Objectivist, then according to Objectivism, do you believe the existence of private prisons is immoral? Ayn Rand stated that she believes in the complete separation of economics and state. Does the idea of private prisons jibe with that idea of separation?

That's not what she meant by the separation of economics and state.

But no, it makes no sense to have private companies in charge of prisons.

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An Objectivist society wouldn't have that many prisons anyways. There are only like, what, a few dozen crimes under objectivism? Most of those would send someone to a maximum security prison, and i don't think we need more than one per state, if that.

It wouldn't even need to have the elaborate security arrangements that prisons have today because its hard to form a prison gang around rape and murder, where as most prison gangs revolve around the drug trade (ultimately).

The prison industry is a disgusting show of incompetence and corruption. It should be done away with just like the drug war.

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If you self-identify as an Objectivist, then according to Objectivism, do you believe the existence of private prisons is immoral? Ayn Rand stated that she believes in the complete separation of economics and state. Does the idea of private prisons jibe with that idea of separation?

Private prisons are immoral. Prisons are a proper function of the State.

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Why not outsource the running of prisons? The Government outsources many of its activities. Government doesn’t actually manufacture guns, for instance. How about contracting with an outside company to do janitorial work at the courthouse? Or the police department contracting with ADP to handle their payroll? Where’s the line you’re worried about having crossed?

It’s not like a private company is deciding who goes to jail and who doesn’t, or for how long. I suppose you might worry about a conflict of interest coming up over early release, more paroles means less inmates means less revenues, but isn’t the same conflict present with a bureaucrat in charge? The danger being what, that they’re going to falsify records about inmate behavior? Say the good ones are bad, to keep them around since they’re low maintenance, and say the bad ones are good since they cost more to monitor…again the same conflict is faced by the bureaucrat.

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Prisons present the unique issue of inmates being always under the threat of violence. Unlike something like payroll or cleaning, the use of violence is what the state is for.

The best comparison though, would be with the use of mercenaries by our military. There I find a similarity. If mercenaries work than I could imagine that a company could create a prison. However our current prison industry needs to be torn down first (its entirely the product of the war on drugs and other stupid laws).

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Prisons present the unique issue of inmates being always under the threat of violence. Unlike something like payroll or cleaning, the use of violence is what the state is for.

Are you concerned about prison guards being employees of a private company? Today police officers (off-duty, but still in uniform) are employed for security by private companies, what’s the difference?

To the OP, what’s with the scare quotes around “Objectivists” and all this self-label/self-identify business? You come to a forum called Objectivism Online, what kind of people do you expect to run into here? It gives me a bad impression, like you’re about to deliver an insult, and maybe that you think your question somehow delivers a devastating critique of “Objectivism”.

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This is that kind of phony privatization, like a lot of cities have with different private corporations for trash, public transit, etc. It inevitably leads to corruption as long as the State weaves itself in. And with prisons, it's an even bigger issue, since it is intricately woven in with the State by the nature of prisons. An Objectivist would say a prison system must be nationalized. I would say it needs to be abolished as it stands.

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"An Objectivist society wouldn't have that many prisons anyways."

That's a breathtakingly naive statement. While it's true that there are some acts and transactions that are now deigned illegal that would be de-criminalized, Objectivism is not going to change human nature. Rapists, murderers, thieves, muggers, burglers, traffickers in child porn and sex slavery, reckless and drunken drivers -- they're not going to magically go away.

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Why not outsource the running of prisons? The Government outsources many of its activities. Government doesn’t actually manufacture guns, for instance. How about contracting with an outside company to do janitorial work at the courthouse? Or the police department contracting with ADP to handle their payroll? Where’s the line you’re worried about having crossed?

Prison inmates are intentionally and deliberately being actively harmed by their imprisonment. That is the whole point of prisons, not rehabilitation. The line is: no private person or company should be in the business of harming people, that is what the State is for.

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"An Objectivist society wouldn't have that many prisons anyways."

That's a breathtakingly naive statement. While it's true that there are some acts and transactions that are now deigned illegal that would be de-criminalized, Objectivism is not going to change human nature. Rapists, murderers, thieves, muggers, burglers, traffickers in child porn and sex slavery, reckless and drunken drivers -- they're not going to magically go away.

Was I wrong in assuming that the drug war accounted for the source of a lot of prisoners? Was I also wrong that the drug war is also responsible for creating situations in which violent crimes are committed?

Are you concerned about prison guards being employees of a private company? Today police officers (off-duty, but still in uniform) are employed for security by private companies, what’s the difference?

As long as everyone involved is trained in such a way that they understand how to deal with prisoners in a just and safe way, and that they are held accountable by the justice system. I don't really care if it is called private or not.

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This is that kind of phony privatization, like a lot of cities have with different private corporations for trash, public transit, etc. It inevitably leads to corruption as long as the State weaves itself in.

Corruption, as in kick-backs to bureaucrats and such? Indeed, welcome to the real world! In the case of prisons, since we’re all agreeing that it’s a proper function of government to imprison people, there’s only so much that can be done to prevent it. In theory, private prisons ought to mean fewer instances of corruption, with the kick-backs tending to happen early in the development/building cycle and not being something that gets perpetuated.

The line is: no private person or company should be in the business of harming people, that is what the State is for.

Again, the state determines that someone is to be locked up, and for how long. Beyond that I don’t see why/how the state must be involved. As it is, private companies build and maintain prisons, and various functions are contracted out. Why does it all have to be overseen by a bureaucrat? Is it just that you believe the guards must be state employees? How about the IT manager, or the procurement manager, do they have to be on the state's payroll?

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Again, the state determines that someone is to be locked up, and for how long. Beyond that I don’t see why/how the state must be involved. As it is, private companies build and maintain prisons, and various functions are contracted out. Why does it all have to be overseen by a bureaucrat? Is it just that you believe the guards must be state employees? How about the IT manager, or the procurement manager, do they have to be on the state's payroll?

It doesn't have to be overseen by "a bureaucrat", it has to be overseen by elected officials, who are held responsible by a higher standard of law than private individuals (the Constitution is filled with restrictions on government officials' actions that private citizens don't have to abide by), not to mention by the voting citizenry.

The government is the one we delegate the right to retaliatory force to. Outsourcing that dilutes responsibility for how that power is used.

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It doesn't have to be overseen by "a bureaucrat", it has to be overseen by elected officials, who are held responsible by a higher standard of law than private individuals (the Constitution is filled with restrictions on government officials' actions that private citizens don't have to abide by), not to mention by the voting citizenry.

And it is overseen by elected officials; judges are either elected directly or appointed by other elected officials (e.g. the President) and confirmed by the legislature. BTW, are juries elected?

The government is the one we delegate the right to retaliatory force to. Outsourcing that dilutes responsibility for how that

power is used.

Dilutes how? A private company can’t be sued? Private employees charged with crimes? How about describing a scenario where a privately run prison leads to a rights violation that can’t happen just as readily in a state run prison.

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Why not outsource the running of prisons? The Government outsources many of its activities. Government doesn’t actually manufacture guns, for instance. How about contracting with an outside company to do janitorial work at the courthouse? Or the police department contracting with ADP to handle their payroll? Where’s the line you’re worried about having crossed?

Outsourcing is not quite the same as private operation. With outsourcing, the contractees still work for the government. With full private operation, you'd have an entire prison industry which would wind up being competitive, and there are problems involved with the various private prisons properly respecting the rights of the prisoners. Prisoners shouldn't be treated like an asset up for bid.

It’s not like a private company is deciding who goes to jail and who doesn’t, or for how long.

No, but they'd be deciding what conditions and organization the prisoners live under. There's a huge difference between living in a prison where the guards are strict but largely impersonal, and one where the guards are constantly getting in your face and trying to incite some kind of reaction so they can react with violence to this suggestion of "disobedience". There's a big difference between living in a small but private cell and living in an enormous cattle-pen with three hundred other prisoners where food is tossed down twice a day for you to fight and scrabble over it. There's a difference between prisons that force inmates to work and those that don't. And if the government is going to set a list of standards and regulations appropriate for the protection of the rights of prisoners (which they do have), then you do not have a *private* industry any more.

I think that, due to the situation, the potentials for abuse, confusion, misalignment of priorities, etc. That it would be better for the government to maintain direct control over all prison facilities, and for all prison workers to be government employees, either directly or as contractors.

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No, but they'd be deciding what conditions and organization the prisoners live under.

Who currently decides whether a prisoner serves time at Club Fed or Sing-Sing (or whichever is the worst)? Why would you think that’s a matter necessarily left to the prison operator’s discretion?

There's a huge difference between living in a prison where the guards are strict but largely impersonal, and one where the guards are constantly getting in your face and trying to incite some kind of reaction so they can react with violence to this suggestion of "disobedience". There's a big difference between living in a small but private cell and living in an enormous cattle-pen with three hundred other prisoners where food is tossed down twice a day for you to fight and scrabble over it. There's a difference between prisons that force inmates to work and those that don't.

What makes you think these nightmare scenarios apply specifically to privately run prisons? I actually think Government employees are more likely to develop this kind of attitude:

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And if the government is going to set a list of standards and regulations appropriate for the protection of the rights of prisoners (which they do have), then you do not have a *private* industry any more.

Indeed, it couldn’t be a “fully” private industry, since there’s ultimately one customer: the Government. It’s not too different from certain R&D projects private companies do for the military, where everyone involved has to have security clearance.

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I agree with Jennifer Snow's point about the problematic employment of the concept 'private industry'. A similar situation would be relying upon mercenary combat units instead of an army of citizen-soldiers.

A further elaboration of the idea of separation of state and economics would be that in no way could the state sell the inmates or their labor or use them to manufacture for sale, not even for the purpose of subsidizing other functions of the state. It might be a good idea to give the prisoners work to do but only toward making the prison self-sustaining not profitable.

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And it is overseen by elected officials; judges are either elected directly or appointed by other elected officials (e.g. the President) and confirmed by the legislature. BTW, are juries elected?

Dilutes how? A private company can’t be sued? Private employees charged with crimes? How about describing a scenario where a privately run prison leads to a rights violation that can’t happen just as readily in a state run prison.

What for? You'll just say that "no, that would happen the same way in both a private and government facility, and they could both be held accountable the same way". Even though I already explained that government officials and private individuals are subject to two different sets of rules. While government officials are only allowed to act with permission, private individuals may act freely until proven wrong. That's what makes one category a government employee, and the other a private citizen. If you hire a private citizen to do a job, as instructed by the government, then he's no longer a private citizen, he's a government employee.

Btw. this is the same argument as the private vs. government police force. And just as pointless to have it, if someone refuses to acknowledge the role of the government as the only entity which may use retaliatory force.

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"Was I wrong in assuming that the drug war accounted for the source of a lot of prisoners? Was I also wrong that the drug war is also responsible for creating situations in which violent crimes are committed?"

Of course the failed war on drugs has provided a source for many prisoners. That goes without saying. However, human nature isn't going to magically change if (just as magically) an Objectivist society were to prevail: Do you think rapists are suddenly going to have a "V-8 moment", strike their foreheads, and say, "AH! I don't have to force this woman to have sex with me after all!" Are alcoholics magically going to soberly decide that getting behind the wheel isn't in their best interest? Does the vandal magically decide that destroying property isn't fun to do after all? Does the school teacher automatically decide that sexually exploiting a student isn't in his best interest? (the rate of abuse by school teachers is far, far higher than that of Catholic priests, which have recieved so much attention). Does the pervert uncle or father magically decide that incest and sexual abuse of minors is wrong after all? (Family members are the most frequent abusers of children.) Do you really think that someone who currently robs and steals to support his drug habit is going to suddenly get a nice job -- 9 to 5 -- to support his now cheap habit? Is the cannibal going to develop a taste for tofu instead? Will the murderer decide to run a steel company instead of killing? I live in a small, Norman Rockwell-type small town -- this past year, a police officer was fatally shot in a "domestic situation" -- the rejected boyfriend of a high-school girl killed a police officer and then killed himself. How would a Objectivist society have changed these events?

My point is simply that Objectivism does not change human nature. The idea that an Objectivist society (the chances of which are slim to none) wouldn't have many prisons is simply naive. I don't think it is a slam against Objectivism to state that -- rather, it is a slam against the Utopian instinct and liberal article of faith that human nature is perfectable.

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What for? You'll just say that "no, that would happen the same way in both a private and government facility, and they could both be held accountable the same way".

In other words you can’t think of an example. Rather than grappling with the implications of that fact, you lash out, but only repeat yourself. I suggest you study what “rationalism” is, in the Objectivist meaning of the term. As someone else memorably pointed out to you on another thread:

“If you cannot imagine even one context, I submit that his words have no real meaning in your mind.”

http://forum.objecti...=25#entry288402

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I suggest you study what “rationalism” is, in the Objectivist meaning of the term.

I'll do that. Though not right away, I have a long list of study suggestions to get to. Turns out you're not the only troll who can't seem to stick to the subjects of threads, always has to make it personal.

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My point is simply that Objectivism does not change human nature. The idea that an Objectivist society (the chances of which are slim to none) wouldn't have many prisons is simply naive. I don't think it is a slam against Objectivism to state that -- rather, it is a slam against the Utopian instinct and liberal article of faith that human nature is perfectable.

Human nature is perfectable--in individual cases, by the person themselves. Not for the population at-large and not via some kind of outside imposition.

However, it may indeed be reasonable to expect that an Objectivist society would have very few prisons because long-term imprisonment might not be the best way of dealing with most criminals. It is an enormous expense and doesn't seem to have much of an effect on recidivism. I think that *all* crimes attended by violence (and not just the occasional first-degree murder) should merit execution--perhaps commuted to life imprisonment *only for a first offense*. There goes perhaps a large proportion of murderers, rapists, serial killers, etc. I also think that crimes against other prison inmates or guards should be treated as a second offense, so if they prove unfit for any human company, their sentence should be enforced in full.

As for non-violent crimes, there are probably better ways to deal with the vast majority of these than imprisonment, with fines and the official publishing of the person's activities topping the list. After all, if you want to prevent Bernie Madoff (or similar) from having another opportunity to defraud, all you really need to do is to publicly announce the extent of his fraudulent activities. This can be much more humiliating and a better preventive measure than a couple of boring months in a cell.

Imprisonment should be for those who have demonstrated that they're not fit to live among the general citizenry but have not conclusively demonstrated that they're too dangerous for human company. There's no real way to predict what proportion of the population this may be, but I expect it's quite small.

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I’m not sure there would be a big need for it under a moral Government system. This thought exercise is contingent upon things staying the same if society changed to the point it gained enough Objectivist values to reorganize, but if it did a lot of variables would also change.

The real issue for prison use is that if the government was run under its proper roll how many non-violent crimes that are currently prosecuted would disappear? Would fraud and other “while collar” crimes also be handled differently? Hell, what would crime look like if enough voters accepted Objectivist ethics? I’m not saying it would be a utopia but certainly streets filled with protests holding Objectivist slogans and creating change would result in a society much different then the one filled with Occupy Random Location Mooks™.

Add to that the fact there is no need on a local level. Most townships only need a small jail and it is located with the courts and police force, making privatization a nonissue. Obviously Andy Griffith would not need to consider such issues but more importantly even larger cities run with their jailhouse right there on site with the police, making this pretty moot. Considering most crime goes through the jailhouse that leaves a small consideration for prisons and I don’t see the economies scaling for an Objectivist leaning society.

I actually would have no problem with the government outsourcing such operations if they were truly needed as it would be no different then the Department of Defense outsourcing R&D or manufacturing. Any leadership worth the name can come up with management processes to insure quality of purpose and compliance, which again for this exercise would be the case since we are talking ideal Government reform.

But like I said, I just don’t see it being practical. Let the state run its little prison and while we’re at it the prisoners can make any materials the State legitimately needs so it doesn’t need to ask for help from the law abiding citizenry.

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