In his posting “We Don’t Need to Keep Criminals in Prison to Punish Them,” Prof. Mark Kleiman has come up with what he thinks is the solution to what he would likely call over-incarceration: relocate people in their thousands, including people with violent criminal convictions, to government apartments in the community where they would be under 24 hour surveillance, have a GPS tracker to record their every move, only be allowed out for certain basic things, and have their conditions eased if they manage to find a job. At first pass, this may seem to make sense. But the essence of the proposal is to relocate prison from the current institutions to the community without changing much else. We will be building another network of carceral institutions right in the community (and you know they won’t be in the posh, lily-white suburbs). Kleiman sweetens his version of mass incarceration by promising individuals gradual increases in their freedom if they find a job. Hmmm, has Prof. Kleiman climbed into the body of a person with a felony conviction recently and looked for a job? And if there are another few hundred thousand of such folks on the job market, how will that look?
But setting that aside for a moment, how is this going to save money? His proposal doesn’t say anything about closing down dozens of prisons and laying off thousands of guards. And if we are going to cut the prison population by say 20% with this proposal, where do we find the money to buy or rent nearly half a million apartments? (he says they have to be efficiencies-one person only. Solitary, in other words.)
Like all utopians still mired in the punishment paradigm, Kleiman cannot come to grips with the fact that ending mass incarceration means that people with felony convictions cannot be treated like dogs on a retractable leash. Full human rights for full human beings. Relocating prisons to low rent apartment complexes without rebuilding communities is another cheap quick fix that will just add a new chapter of misery to the ongoing saga of mass incarceration.