Penal Colonies / by kevin murray

The United States leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens for crimes such as murder, robbery, burglary, rape, drugs, fraud, and so many other criminal offenses, to the tune of over two million Americans that are in a state, local, or federal prison system.  There is a cost to society for imprisoning all of these people, not just to the pocketbook of the taxpayers, but to the collective psyche of our nation, to the convicts themselves, and to the testimony of our country and the foundation upon which it rests.  I do submit to you, that is not possible to declare America the "freest nation on the earth" when it incarcerates the most people in the world, and this is a disgrace to this country's principles and to its own motto, that believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Placing human beings into what are essentially cages, dehumanizing them, punishing them, discarding them, treating them as unworthy, and showing a lack of concern or compassion to them are not the acts of a nation that believes that they are their brother's keeper.  America is better than its current situation of incarcerating so many, so often, for reasons that have more often to do with bad circumstances,  bad laws, weak minds, and corrupted situations, than that America is a nation, unique, that just seems to breed criminals at a much higher rate than any other nation on earth.


Perhaps criminals should be manhandled, punished, and mistreated, but it seems that this has already been the unwritten policy of this great nation for too long, that we must instead look at alternate programs that are not only more cost-efficient, but fairer, imaginative, and that have redeeming value. 

Criminals have been around in one form or another since time immemorial, with punishments ranging from death to disfigurement to public humiliation to incarceration and to all things in-between.  Historically, prisoners have also been transported to islands, to countries such as Australia, even America in pre-revolutionary times, or to designated areas within countries that were typically desolate and empty. 


America is a large nation, with many areas of our land that are completely unpopulated, remote, and own by the Federal government or the State government, or held in perpetuity for the people themselves.  While I do not advocate modern chain gangs, I do admire work-release or work programs for convicts, but we can do even better, have even more far reaching consequences, if we take certain designated areas of this country, and provide the space, knowhow, and equipment to create meaningful things in areas of the country that are lacking them, such as fresh running water, roads, electricity, sewage, fencing, crops, infrastructure, or so forth depending upon the circumstances or the situation. 


Virtually every man is capable of doing some sort of work, with his hands, or with his mind, why not provide our prisoners with a real opportunity to be responsible, to take pride in what they accomplish, and to thereby reap the benefits therewith.  In situations to which the convicts are no longer actually locked up, technology can still track them, can still keep them within certain designated areas, through GPS tracking and the like.  Idle hands are the devil's tools, and while giving a man a fish will satiate that hunger for a while, teaching a man how to fish can change a life forever.