Jan 252014
 
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midway

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).

THE COSTS

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.

THE SOLUTION

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.

midwayMidway 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, greenislandas 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.

ESCAPE?

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.

  19 Responses to “Sending ‘Lifers’ to the Pacific Prisons”

  1. Stephen-

    I love it, truly well laid out solution to an increasingly problematic issue. Of course, liberals would whine about the lack of visitation for these life long criminals but that would be an issue with any type of reform. I would actually go step further and abolish the death penalty and send the criminals abroad. As death penalty cases usually take 10-15 years to prosecute, thus continually tying up vital resources, a life sentence without parole is a better solution. Further, under your scenario, I would cut costs further and eliminate the guards, I mean truly, where are these people going. Radar could monitor the shores to ensure vessels or planes do not approach and drones could handle those solutions without the risk of human life. Also, food/supplies could be air dropped on a monthly basis to further contain costs. Lastly, I would also include true pedophiles in this group, and I don’t mean the the 18-20 yr old guys who have sex with the 15 yr old minor females.

    Keep up the writing, great stuff.

    E

    • Erik,

      I thought about no guards…and I came to the conclusion that perhaps other ships could come to the island. But perhaps with monitoring that would stop this.

      Good points
      Steve

  2. Why would we have to incur the costs of $2B for buildings and another $500M ANNUALLY for the rest of OUR lives? Drop them off, wish them luck, fly away. Survival of the fittest. Let them work the land for food and live a life of Survivor, the TV show, except for real. They contribute nothing to society. In fact they’ve been a drain ON society. Let them fend for themselves. Drones could periodically fly-by and let us know how things are going (like anyone would care). Create a country club environment with food, clothing, and shelter in a perfect 72 degree climate year-round, and, frankly, what convicted prisoner wouldn’t look forward to spending their golden years there? Prison is supposed to be PUNISHMENT, right? Why should we keep catering to these law-breakers. As it is now for those sentenced to death, we do everything except put a mint on the pillow before they get the needle. Why? They’re CONVICTED FELONS. If you’re one, you have no more rights. Or at least you shouldn’t. Living a lawless life is a CHOICE. Time to make those who make the wrong choice truly accountable for their actions.

  3. I understand your points. But let me just reiterate that there would be no electricity, no food (other than the powder), no medical, no books, no mail and no chance of getting off. Perhaps worst of all, no policing by the guards. I’m sure this would lead to some regular ‘downsizing’ as it were.

    While some think this is a true pipe dream…it would still have to be sold to politicians. I think it could be – but there would have to at least be a modicum of human care, in the form of food, water and shelter. Apart from that, they are on their own.

    • I like this idea as well as eliminating the guards in favor of radar and drones. As to supplying them with food, what if initially they were supplied with a year’s worth of food, along with fishing poles, farming equipment (Amish like), seeds, livestock, a bunch of how-to-books, paper and pencil, bandages, clothing, shoes, basic medicine–items that would help them become self-sustaining, etc. I even think we should drop off some rudimentary weapons; knives, axes, bow and arrow. Yes, they might use them against each other, but I think the population as a whole has a better shot (hehe) with them than without. When new inmates are dropped off (perhaps on a yearly basis) we’d refresh their stock as appropriate and also serve as a mail convoy to their friends and relatives outside of the island. While I agree that the inmates may have lost their right to contact with the outside world, innocent people on the outside deserve better. I’m sure there are lessons that could be learned from Australia.

      • Interesting thoughts. I hadn’t considered the farming aspects – but would only be afraid that they could build a raft. Then again…I doubt they would have someone like Gilligan or The Professor in their midst to help them.

        I can’t agree on the outside contact though. As you know from the article, a large part of this is deterrence. Thinking about eating grains and having no medical is one thing – but losing contact with one’s family FOREVER, could perhaps make a big difference between committing a crime or not. And not to state the obvious, but in the case of murder, the victim’s family loses contact forever too!

        Really liked your comments,
        Steve

  4. Steve, do you consider these 45 thousand inmates humans? Or somewhat less than humans ?

    • Well, I certainly consider them human – otherwise, just drop them off and let them die. But should they be treated the same as other prisoners? I don’t think so, for two reasons.

      First, such a mandatory punishment would serve as a true deterrent for those committing major crimes. Remember, no medical, powdered food and water, no electricity, books, permanent loss of contact with loved ones, no policing (which could mean death for some), and certainly no chance of ever getting off the island.

      Second, I believe that the tax money we put into housing criminals, especially this lot of 40,000 well-fed and medically-treated, takes away monies which could improve housing and rehabilitation programs for those who could become more productive members of society.

      I understand that some may see this as unusual, cruel and inhumane. I suppose there are points to be made. But I’m only talking about 2% of the prison population who are the worst offenders. Is there a ‘greater-good’ argument to be made here?

  5. GROWING THERE ON FOOD SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM SINCE MONSANTO CORP HAS MASTERED THE SEED TECHNOLOGY OF GROWING VEGGIES IN DESERT SETTINGS WITH VERY LITTLE RAINFALL.

  6. Very interesting! It’s Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken all over again. (“I thought you were dead!”) I feel very conflicted about the death penalty. I truly don’t have a coherent opinion on the matter. But if we’re going to have it, we should implement it like China. Following a guilty verdict, the condemned is taken out back and shot. No need for lethal injection drugs that European pharmaceutical companies won’t provide. No taxpayer funded extended prison stays and legal appeals. No islands. Just one 10 cent 9mm round.

    What’s wrong with us? What are the systemic and cultural causes of mass crime and incarceration in our country? Is it our violent and dehumanizing entertainment industry? The erosion of common decency and basic respect? Poverty? Easy access to lethal weapons? Broken families? Porn and the objectification of women? Materialism? Guess there is no easy answer to that question. Maybe a mix of all those, give or take a few.

    I disagree that the islands would be a deterrent. The death penalty is not a deterrent, though I don’t think that necessarily means we shouldn’t have it (like I said, I’m conflicted). At least you’d have a chance to survive on the islands. Thanks Steve. Good Thot!

    • LOL…Snake Plissken. Good one Tim!

      I don’t know why we have so many criminals, and so many violent crimes are committed? But it’s clear that something has to change. The way things are going, there is simply going to be more overcrowding (up to 50% OVER capacity by 2018). Plus, court dockets are just piling up, and making that part of the criminal system so much more inefficient.

      Who benefits from keeping the system the way it is? Primarily big business, who builds and supplies these prisons. There’s big money in delivering food, uniforms, mattresses, pillows, social services, etc.

      As for the island being a deterrent, I really believe it would be – although not immediately. Remember, these prisoners are not going to be swimming in the ocean or walking on the beach – they are behind 40 foot high walls, eating powdered grains, having no contact with family, no electricity, or protection from each other. And of course, no medical.

      Thanks for your thots Tim.

  7. Reform can also start by giving criminals a reason (island prison) to make better decisions before the crime happens. We house 25% and quadruple Russia? Pretty clear to me that “prison conditions” in other countries are A huge deterrent! This has to come into play to impact the other 2million that decide to commit crimes. The molesters can be dropped off about a 1,000 miles before reaching Midway. Very interesting concept!

    • Yes, this was my point too. People who commit the more violent crimes may still do that. But in time, this deterrent may take a strong hold.
      Again, only talking about 2% of the prison population, which is not a lot. But the money saved could be used to properly house and rehabilitate those who could BE productive members of society.

  8. Good point, but far too hard to sell the idea.
    What could happen tomorrow is to outsource the prisons to other countries just like we do with phone calls and computer programming. . Pay Mexico to house all illegal aliens and they could stay in their prisons, all the others could be sent to the other countries prisons. I mean what prisoner would want to go to Iraq, Bangladesh, or Egypt etc.
    Also just like Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa county, build tent cities with no AC an no internet, feed them bolony sandwiches for $2 per day.
    The discussions about deterrent are baseless, there is no deterrent for these people, they don’t think ahead and think what if I get caught?

    • Well, I think the only thing is perhaps the control. What if an Egypt or Iraq houses our convicts and then there are “dirty deals” done to release them? Separately, I have listened to, and liked Sheriff Joe’s thoughts.

      I do think that today, the deterrent issue is of no major value. Being sent to a prison for life, where you get three-squares a day + family visits (perhaps conjugal) and medical may be better than what many of these thugs get on the streets anyway. But the Pacific Prisons wouldn’t give any of those things…and I could see someone saying, “do I really want to go away and NEVER see my family?”

      Gary, thanks for the comments.

  9. Hiding the criminals will not solve the problem. Changing what constitutes a crime will. For example, how much crime would there be if all drugs were legal, prostitution was a licensed business, gambling could occur in any jurisdiction and labor unions and politicians were annually audited by the IRS.

    Perhaps this will not be necessary as the crime rate continues to fall from those rates in the 90’s. Perhaps one reason is abortion has been on demand and readily available since Roe v Wade. Millions of children have not been born to mothers who did not want them. Perhaps this is the biggest crime fighting tool of all. The criminals who would be the products of unloving households just did not get born so as the existing population ages the number of unloved children as a part of the population is reduce dramatically. The crime statistics show a declining crime across the board relative to the size of the population.

    • Well I don’t think we can redefine murder, rape, sodomy as a non-crime (Which I’m sure you agree with). However, I think we could certainly re-think what constitutes a LWOP sentence. Three-strikes for drugs is certainly not the same as a death row inmate.

      I don’t imagine that most crime will drop because of the Pacific Prisons. What I do believe is that there has to be a real deterrent facing those who commit LWOP crimes such as those listed above. Sure, there are those it won’t matter to. But we need to make a prison experience something which is not better than, or the same as, a convict’s life on the outside. It has to be made worse to be a real deterrent.

      Also, we need to stop wasting our taxpayer money, at least, on those people who should not be getting medical care, or being kept in humane conditions for the rest of their natural lives. They should live among themselves, as they have shown themselves unfit to live in American society.

      Per the abortion topic, I will only say that reducing crime by limiting human births is not the same as improving morality across society. There is so much malice and mistrust in the U.S. I wonder why life in the 1940’s and 1950’s seemed more wholesome and safe.

  10. I have know you for 45 years now and still over think everything you are the best.

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