Tuesday, 22 September 2009


The number of people locked up inside NZ’s prisons is at a record high: a record 8,509 New Zealanders are imprisoned for doing things they shouldn’t have (compared with around 5000 in 1996/97, and up from 8493 on September 7), and folk are starting to ask questions like: “Where are they all going to go?”

Fair question, but it’s leaping ahead a little.  Here’s a question it might be worth answering first: What’s the primary purpose of the prison system?  I ask that, because to answer it is to solve the overcrowding problem.

So what is the primary purpose of the prison system? Answer: It’s not rehabilitation; if that happens, and it rarely does, then so much the better – but it’s not the primary purpose. And it’s not punishment; sure, we don’t want to see anybody gain from their crimes against others, but “an eye for an eye” solves nothing, does it – except perhaps as a deterrent.

And how effective has the deterrent been? With record numbers incarcerated, you’d have to say that’s going pretty bloody poorly.  And a fixation on taking eyes does leave everyone blind to what prison is really about.

So what is the primary purpose of the prison system then? Well, it goes back to the very purpose of government:

    “Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self-defence. It is for this reason that the collective force – which is only the organised combination of the individual forces – may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.” (Frédéric Bastiat)
    “If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.
This is the task of government–of a proper government—it’s basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why mean do need a government.
    “A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—ie., under objectively defined laws.”
[Ayn Rand]

So what does that mean about the primary purpose of the prison system?  It means that its primary purpose is to protect us from those who’ve enacted force or fraud against others.

If some folk demonstrate that they’re prepared to take away a victim’s rights, then ipso facto their own rights should be equally forfeit.  That’s fair, right?  And if they’re prepared to make that person a victim, then we’re entitled to ensure they don’t take other victims as well.

So the primary purpose is protection.  We lock them up for our self-defence.  But how does this solve the overcrowding problem?

The question really answers itself. If you draw a distinction between people who’ve been locked up simply for doing things they “shouldn’t have” and people who’ve done things to other people that they shouldn’t have, then you have a group (the former one) who deserves to be released.  That is, draw a distinction between those who’ve committed crimes with actual victims and those who haven’t – i.e., those who need to be locked up for our self-defence, and those who don’t – and release the poor folk who’ve committed no crime other than one arbitrarily so defined by the government.

Even the most conservative figures suggest that group includes around ten to twenty percent of the present prison population. Find them, release them, and you can can stop talking about overcrowding for another electoral cycle – and you can begin to take those victimless crimes off the books so that people guilty of nothing other than hurting themselves don’t start filling up those places again.

Do it.


  1. Oswald has a far more entertaining means of reducing said population.

    As for your 'victimless' crimes. I know from your previous arguments where that story leads. Society has determined that the taking of certain drugs, rightly or wrongly, requires the perps to be incarcerated. And there they should stay.

  2. Peter, as far as the 'State' is concerned the sole function of prison is punishment; a chap breaks the laws of the State and as punishment he loses his freedom.

    The reason for this is to reinforce the impatiality of justice being blind (to weeping widows, calls for vengence, calls for protection)

    'Rehabilitation' or 'deterrent' or 'protection'[of the general public] are recent ad hoc concepts which have no foundation as far as the State is concerned (notwithstanding some minor law changes to that effect for political window dressing purposes)

    As far as the State is concerned it could not care less about victims or grieving families or sociopaths running amok but simply about punishing those who break laws.

  3. A lot of drug offenders aren't being locked up anyway. They are getting home detention. So you haven't solved the overcrowding problem. Have a look at the stats I have linked to this morning. Fewer people were put in prison in 2007 and 2008 but nearly 3,000 were sentenced to home detention. I have a friend who's dealer is on it.

    I am with you on the function of prison and what I want it to do. Protect the rest of us.

  4. Prisons are not necessary in an armed society. Non-violent crimes can be addressed via home detention and special tax codes for the criminal. Violent crimes would be addressed simply by shooting anyone who tries it on.

    The very few survivors who were too dangerous for home detention? I'm sure we could find a handful of cells to put them in somewhere...


  5. The very few survivors who were too dangerous for home detention? I'm sure we could find a handful of cells to put them in somewhere...

    Or we can find a 9x19mm and put it in somewhere: problem solved.

    last week: Stephen Franks said: the point of prison is as a sop to liberal lefty scum who just aren't willing to shoot people. Well maybe that's fine but there is not reason to TAKE MY TAXES TO SALVE YOUR CONSCIENCE

    We could simply wipe out the 8000 prisoners + 3000 home detainees. Then fire all the prison guards and sell the prisons. Job done.

  6. "Society has determined that the taking of certain drugs,"

    I'm sure that same society proabably doesn't approve of me rubbing my cock in my living room, but is it any of their business?
    On your basis, all white women marrying black men would be locked up, because society doesn't approve...

  7. Laws are an embodiment of the moral sentiment of society.

  8. Where does a repeat drunk-driver fit in? One who has never crashed, but has been picked up on numerous occasions?

  9. This headline has got to be a joke. With continuous population growth you would expect the prison population to be a record constantly, just as the total New Zealand population is always at a record. That the number of inmates is the highest ever is what you would expect.

    Now, if you were talking about a percentage or proportion.. that would be different.

  10. Where does a repeat drunk-driver fit in?
    In a wooden box, 8ft x 2ft x 2ft, 6ft under

  11. Barry sez "Laws are an embodiment of the moral sentiment of society."

    And at the moment, the prevailing morals are:
    - the "state" wil provide
    - it's not my fault, I'm a victim in all this
    - rich folk are undeserving thieves
    - independent thought is dangerous
    - Bureaucrats can be entrusted with these things
    - self improvement is unhealthy, unless you are talking about sport, in which case you are "our" hero


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