Prisons: Abolish, Don’t Privatize

This article was written by Brad Spangler at C4SS.org back on July 13th, 2011.

One of the more difficult challenges the libertarian faces when advocating privatization is the case of prisons. There is good reason for this. The sincere libertarian, whether an anarchist or a misguided reformer, wants to do two things:

1) Remove from the state’s monopoly purview all functions the state merely monopolizes which are not inherently criminal in and of themselves.

2) Abolish those state functions which are inherently criminal violations of the libertarian non-aggression principle.

Perhaps no other thing the state does offers so much potential for privatization nightmare stories as prisons do. There’s a reason for this. Prisons themselves, as we understand the term today, are inherently abusive and criminal enterprises — whether managed directly by a state or a state-affiliated monopoly contractor.

Does that mean there will be nothing like prisons in a market anarchist society? Yes and no. Context matters. We’re really talking about two different things — “privatization” under statism is not the same thing as what will likely result in the marketplace if we were to abolish the state and make “law” a free market for consensual dispute resolution with justice understood as restitution rather than punishment.

Under corporate statism, a “private” prison is some company paid with stolen money BY THE STATE (in an environment in which big business is legally privileged anyway, through all sorts of political favoritism). The customer pays and it’s the customers interests that are served. When the customer is legally privileged in the way that the state (and its affiliated corporations) is to do things TO people without their consent, of course monstrous results should be expected. It’s all a matter of economic incentives.

Market anarchists want to turn the incentive issues around by making the “prisoner” the customer. Seriously. We’d really be abolishing prisons AS THEY ARE UNDERSTOOD TODAY (and more or less in line with classical anarchist thought on the topic).

To whatever extent there might be something we can compare to prisons, such would actually be high security hotels that cater to people trying to work off their restitution debts.

That is, the residents would seek to go there as a refuge because that’s the best deal they can get — because nobody else wants them around.

You know how some car dealerships offer “second chance” financing for people with bad credit ratings? Okay, now imagine “second chance” special residencies for people with bad “law ratings”.

The “prisoner” (resident, actually) would be free to leave at any time. They would be customers. Accommodations likely wouldn’t be luxurious, but most people wouldn’t want to endure inhumane treatment. In a freed market for such services, these private “prisons” would compete with each other to persuade “inmates” to move in. If some place starts getting abusive, people will move out for a better deal elsewhere.

For more, check out the video below, US Prison Population: The Largest in the World by LearnLiberty.org featuring Dan D’Amico:


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