It is time to take prisons seriously. The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world today and throughout history. The financial costs are tremendous and rising. One in every one hundred Americans is jailed within this so-called land of the free. Many have committed no violent crimes. Not a few are in for supposed political crimes. Some are wholly innocent of both yet languish in captivity. What are the sociological, political, economic, cultural, and historical consequences of incarceration?This summer, D'Amico will be holding an online course at the Mises Academy on the prison state that has been constructed by the Democratic and Republican parties over the course of the last four decades:
The prison is a unique technology of enforcement. One could say it is the ultimate embodiment of institutionalized coercion. Its essential architectural features — individualized cells and controlled living environments — minimize the opportunities for social interaction among inmates and maximize their perception of total observation and control by guards. Both features were designed and implemented to accomplish particular purposes.
Since the 1970s, the American system has been said to operate according to a retributive paradigm of criminal justice, wherein criminals are thought to deserve punishment. Prisons are believed to be an efficient retributive technique and deterrence is their convenient consequence.
Originally, penitentiaries were designed and built with grander intentions: to induce penitence at the individual level and to make for a better community at the societal level. Prisons were both a micro and macro tool of social engineering . . .
In my upcoming Mises Academy course, The American Prison State, I will use readings and lectures to outline the long and varied history of incarceration and criminal law in the United States. All the readings for this course will be free and online. The online video lectures will use Webex, the industry standard for web conferencing. Lectures will be Tuesday evenings, 7:00–8:30 EDT, and they will be recorded and available for enrolled students to download. The first class will be on June 7.Some basic facts and figures to consider: