The Crimes We Don’t Count

Feb 7 2012 @ 9:11am

by Patrick Appel

In a follow up to his article on prison, Adam Gopnik ponders the morality of mass incarceration:

The moral failings of advanced liberal societies, not least this one, tend to be slow-motion sins. We don’t stone the adulterer or hang the sodomite or massacre the restive inner-city residents. We allow the atmosphere to be filled with greenhouse gases; we allow the hypertrophic growth of inequality; we let the prison population grow to the size of a megalopolis. And the key is that there’s no particular moment when they happened, no single event to expose and decry. It’s the slow-motion violence of mass incarceration that enables it to elude our moral immune system. Prisons stop time. We need to find ways, from the outside, to accelerate our awareness.

Christopher Glazek's compelling article on crime behind bars, which Andrew linked to over the weekend, also deserves a wider audience. Here's another excerpt:

Progressives lament the growth of private prisons (prisons for profit). But it’s sadism, not avarice, that fuels the country’s prison crisis. Prisoners are not the victims of poor planning (as other progressive reformers have argued)—they are the victims of an ideological system that dehumanizes an entire class of human being and permits nearly infinite violence against it. As much as a physical space, prisons denote an ethical space, or, more precisely, a space where ordinary ethics are suspended. Bunk beds, in and of themselves, are not cruel and unusual. University dorms have bunk beds, too. What matters is what happens in those beds. In the dorm room, sex, typically consensual. In prisons, also sex, but often violent rape. 

Reihan has mixed feelings about Glazek's article.