The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, but houses an astronomical 25% of the world’s criminals. Theories as to why this exists include a politicized response to urban and drug-related crime in the 1970’s, overspending of state funds, and the privatization of prisons. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that we simply have too many prisoners for our prisons to safely hold, and the costs are skyrocketing.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons’ 9.5 percent population growth from 2006 to 2011 well exceeded its rated capacity. As of the time I am penning this chapter, there is a thirty-nine percent overage in our prison system, which is estimated to grow to near 50% by 2018.
How about this. At 4,575 prisons, the U.S. quadruples second place Russia at just 1,029. The total prison population in America is just over 2.2 million, which is the population of Houston – America’s fourth largest city.
The ballooning incarcerated population puts a tremendous strain on rehabilitation efforts, while simultaneously putting inmates and guards in danger. With double and triple bunking in one cell, the crowding and loss of privacy increases the odds that prisoners will lash out at themselves and guards.
There are cases of those wrongly accused, but the vast majority prisoners ARE guilty of heinous and violent crimes such as murder, rape, sodomy, child molestation, human trafficking, espionage, using weapons of mass destruction, and treason. These felons and death row inmates constitute the country’s 41,000 prisoners serving a term of life without parole (LWOP).
Duke University researchers estimate that the death penalty costs taxpayers an additional $2.16 million for each case. Such cases generally take at least twenty years for appeals to go through the courts system! Moreover, the state of Kansas found that it costs an average of $740,000 to keep someone in prison for life.
According to a California Corrections study, it costs taxpayers up to 300% more to care for prisoners over the age of fifty-five; this is due to chronic conditions inherent with their failing health. The cost of housing a thirty-seven-year-old prison inmate is about $49,000 per year. At age fifty-five, the cost…wait for it… increases to $150,000 per year! If the inmate lives to age seventy-seven, the state could spend as much as $4 million to keep him in prison for life.
Why are we giving criminals without a chance for parole medical treatment and care? They are afforded healthcare privileges that many millions of uninsured law-abiding Americans can’t afford and do without.
Let me take you into my world…and a solution called the ‘Pacific Prisons’. It will ease some of the taxpayer burden, free up more money in state budgets, offer a serious deterrent for committing capital crimes, lighten the load on court dockets, and offers the possibility of completely removing the death penalty from all fifty states.
The Pacific Prisons program begins with the ‘lifers’ and only the lifers taking a permanent vacation away from the United States – never to return. We are talking about the 41,000 convicted male and female felons who have absolutely no chance of parole, or are on death row. In total, these individuals (39,770 male and 1,230 female) constitute less than 2 percent of all U.S. prisoners.
Naturally, it would be unfair for us to burden another country with our ‘criminal baggage’, so we’ll have to find a few deserted islands, still under control of the United States. After some research, I came across just the set of little beauties that will do the trick – Midway Island and Palmyra Atoll.
These islands are considered part of the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands. They are rarely visited, except by military or scientific personnel, and are both considered wildlife refuges under various federal government agencies, such as Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Agriculture.
Midway Island, having an area of 2.4 square miles, would be the prison for the male convicts. Its location is in the northern Pacific Ocean, sitting about halfway between North America and China’s mainland. The island was formerly a convenient refueling stop for transpacific flights, and later served as a critical naval air station during World War Two and the Korean War.
In 1993 the then naval air facility was officially decommissioned by the military. The island still has twenty miles of roads, nearly five miles of pipelines, and a one-and-a-half mile long runway.
Midway Island is approximately 3,200 miles west of California, 2,200 miles east of Japan, 4,300 miles northeast of Australia and 1,300 miles to Honolulu, Hawaii. That puts it right about…in the middle of nowhere.
The female LWOP convicts will go to Green Island, as a part of the Kure Atoll, which is about 58 miles northwest of Midway Island. From 1960 to 1992, this 200 acre island served as a United States Coast Guard LORAN station, complete with a short coral runway.
So we have two islands, under U.S. control, former military bases, having average temperatures of 72 degrees year-round and both are remote. There would be plenty of high walls and barbed wire fences built. No doctors, hospitals, teachers, therapists, books, mail or electricity. Sundown would really be ‘lights-out’.
Food would be in the form of a mixture of protein powder, grains, nuts, powdered vitamins and minerals. It would contain all the essential nutrients to sustain life. There would be no packaging, and its dispersal would be through devices similar to small silos, dropping the food down. Water would be brought in through desalinization and filtration, thereafter delivered to prisoners through numerous tough-built and protected fountains.
Showers and lavatories would be designed with a minimal opportunity for prisoners to break, touch or make usable any parts. Technology like what we see outdoors at large events – you get the drift. Living facilities would not need heat or air conditioning, nor would there be bars. Just cement rooms mattresses. Anyway, I’ll leave that up to the engineers and security design teams.
The guards would be well-paid and rotate duty perhaps every three to six months. They would take an approach of being ‘hands-off’ with the prisoners. That is, they would sit high atop cement guard posts, outside of the high cement walls. They would not interact with the prisoners, except to shoot, if needed, during escape attempts. This means that prisoners would in fact, be forming their own communities and policing themselves.
Some may think, “How cruel. They’re being treated like animals. They can kill each other.” Perhaps they may be right. But if they commit heinous crimes, who speaks for the cruelty to the victims? Remember, these are people who will never get parole, or be executed anyway. They have effectively earned the right to be exiled from U.S. society and perhaps its norms, in exchange for a system where they can live among themselves.
These prisoners would essentially have their own private remote island with the nearest major life, according to prevailing trade winds, about 1,600 miles in the Marshall Islands. These are a set of atolls, themselves divided into 1,156 tiny islands. If one were to get past the guards, he or she would need to have sailing and navigational skills and build a craft worthy enough to combat the harsh conditions of the raging ocean.
Next, would be the issue of food and water. Assuming tremendous luck and a true, consistent route, the successful escape would require moving at least 50 miles a day (in the correct direction) for 33 straight days. Getting enough food and water to last for four weeks (per individual escapee) would be quite a trick.
Plus, any time someone tries to escape, and gets off the island, no one on the island knows if the ‘convict castaway’ made it. Without feedback, they lose hope and cling to the desire to stay safe, secure, and relatively well-fed on the island. It’s simple behavioral psychology – man desires to stay alive. He (or she) will seek whatever means necessary to do so.
Allotting $2 billion for the buildings and say $500 million for guards, food, clothing and sanitation each year, at today’s costs of up to $740,000 per prisoner for life, the Pacific Prisons could instantly save up to $20 billion! Plus billions more each year. Let’s remember, this is just on 2% of the entire prison population.
This could also provide a window to remove the death penalty in many, if not all states. This may offer some solace to who oppose it, but only insomuch as they don’t think about the ‘survival of the fittest’ on the prison island. But it would save tremendously on taxpayer expense for the majority of these cases needlessly tying up the court system.
And what of deterrence? The criminals or future criminals who understand that “lifer” crimes will lead them to a self-policing island without three square meals, medical care, and electricity, may think at least twice. Fear is an excellent motivator.
Cost savings aside, there is the fact that, with less crime, criminal cases and reduced death sentence appeals, there may be less jobs for prosecutors, police departments and state-appointed attorneys. I think I can live with that.