Dear non-violent, cash-strapped governments: have you considered exile instead of prison?

Various US Presidents from both ends of the spectrum,i variously waging Wars on Nounsii have colluded to incarcerate millions. Yes, millions.

By yearend 2013, the number of persons under adult correctional supervision was the smallest number observed since 2003. About 7 in 10 offenders under adult correctional supervision were supervised in the community on probation (3.91 million) or parole (853,200) at yearend 2013, compared to about 3 in 10 incarcerated in state and federal prisons (1.57 million) or local jails (731,200).

According to their own data,iii the US prison system is currently micromanaging the lives of some 7 mn of its residents who either plea bargainediv or were convicted and sentenced for crimes by the state.

While political incentivesv created and continue to perpetuate this sad state of affairs, the resulting financial burden on taxpayers is no small matter; it’s somewhere in the order of $75 bn per year at the US federal level and another $0.5 – 1.0 bn per year at the US state level for imprisonment alone, to say nothing of the parole management and court costs. Given that inmates cost ~$25,000 – 50,000 per year to house, and that those sentenced to life without parole can end up costing the state upwards of $1 mn each, they’re undoubtedly a net-burden. Not even the privitisation of prisons,vi the death sentence,vii and prison labourviii can wipe away these costs.

A more cost-effective approach is as simple as it is time-tested. I’m referring of course to the practise of exile: where a convict is banished from the country on threat of death.

Whether for Roman senator Seneca in AD 41 or loverboy Casanova in the 1700s,ix exile has long been a means of isolating politically unsavoury characters. While the appetite for the cutting off of fingers, lashings, and other means of physical punishment have diminished in Western countriesx it’s a wonder that simply exiling convicts hasn’t gained more traction. What could be more non-violent?

And really, what could be easier than dropping off Bernie Madoff at the Mexican border and saying “See ya in twenty years, pal” ? If they die, great! Problem solved. If they live, also great! They’re someone else’s problem now.

Lest you think that exile is inadequate punishment, bear in mind that, to the degree that people are by-and-large geographically fixed and move only when forced to a) for political reasons, b) for work, c) for individuationexile retains the same effect of isolating one from one’s family, home, familiar environs, established routines and customs, and business relations. Yes, some of this would be readily circumvented by Citizens of the Internet, but not all of it. And the vast majority of convicts would feel the full brunt of justice for only the cost of a rental car and some gas. 

From the perspective of the state, the costs associated with exile are minimal, the benefits are largely the same, and the moral bitchslap from watching the same people come back to prison again and again and again, inconveniently pointing out the repeated failures of their penal system, is neatly eliminated.xi Oh 2 years of exile wasn’t enough? How about you get the fuck out for-ev-er. See? Simple.

Exile can even have unexpected benefits for the exiled. Acting as a non-lethal stressor, it either leads to self-immolation, as with Shakespeare’s Romeo, or flourishing, as with Adam when banished from the Garden of Eden. Either way, it’s an effective means of creating convex payoffs from which society as a whole can only benefit. For large nation states still grasping at the tendrils of relevance, it’s hard to think of a more +EV strategy.

For those of us already on the Internet, for those of us a step ahead, for those of us more inclined to the public forum of IRC, exile is easier still and already in full effect. A simple:


and you’re banishèd.

Exile makes sense. So, dear non-violent, cash-strapped governments: keep up, wouldja?


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  1. Yes, the “spectrum.” That same, ultimately socialist spectrum that props up TBTF banks, car companies, fast food companies, “green” energy companies, and military equipment suppliers. Basically, 90% of the whole US economy is dependent on the top-down federal dole.
  2. See the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the soon-to-be-announced War on Bitcoin.
  3. This data, while certainly self-reported and therefore deserving of some measure of skepticism, is at least related to something that can at least in theory be measured. Unlike, y’know, inflation. Or GDP.
  4. For the love of all that is holy, don’t plea bargain with the USG. It ain’t worth 2 years of your life, not even if you’re Charlie Shrem. Not when the prosecutor is a muppet and a fraud, which he almost certainly is. Not when the fiat legal system as a construct is more borked than the girl trying to use a Brasilian bikini as a burka.
  5. Kickbacks, campign financing, and the PR benefits of being Tough on Something.
  6. One of the largest publicly traded prison corporations, with a market cap of $4.4 bn, is Corrections Corporation of America. On Yahoo! Finance, note the lulzy ticker symbol “People viewing CXW also viewed” in the bottom-left corner:Corrections Corporation of America likes Facebook

    That, and the fact that 174 Facebookers clicked “like” to let their “friends” know that they’re at least following CXW sorta says it all.

  7. The national average for time spent on death row is nine years and the legal fees associated with the nearly endless appeals is enormous. All told, life without parole, for all of its costs, can end up being less expensive for taxpayers.
  8. True, if anything is keeping US inflation figures in check, it’s prison labour.

    Given that inmates are paid $0.25 – $2.00 per hour – in addition to free room, board, library access, laundry service, and gym use, netting them $200 – 300 per month to send home to their families – there are undoubtedly prison labourers who’ve never done more to support their families or their local economies. If anything is keeping US-manufactured goods globally competitive, it’s prison labour.

  9. The author, romancer, and gambler was exiled from Venice, Warsaw, and France for everything from duels to affairs. Dude was a pimp.
  10. In much the same way that the British colonial empire withered from a lack of competent men and not some moral “improvement,” don’t you find the the decline of the American empire, coincident as it was with their “curing” of hierarchy, a bit telling? Aren’t the stories villanising bankers and Russia just a bit rich?

    After Bitcoin has had its way with the US’ rancid corpse, what remains would do well to remember the principles of independence prized by the land’s early settlers. As I’m sure it will. All in good time.

  11. I’d even argue that trying to rehabilitate someone over age 30 is a lost cause. Juvenile offenders definitely have the best chance of changing their life course but much beyond that and too much damage has been done for a prison system that can’t use violence to impart meaningful change. So… exile.

4 thoughts on “Dear non-violent, cash-strapped governments: have you considered exile instead of prison?

  1. Adam Thorsen says:

    Do you think Mexico would allow this? Perhaps you believe there’s nothing Mexico could do to stop it?

    • Pete D. says:

      The idea is that it’s not for Mexico to allow to disallow, the burden of responsibility falls upon he who is exiled, not proprietors of the first land his sorry ass is dumped on. It’s entirely possible, if not quite probable, that the exiled would have some traveling to do before finding somewhere remote, tolerant, or ignorant enough to house him.

      If the exiled is more fortunate or more skilled, he may have a positive reputation abroad that permits him refuge, as Snowden did with Russia.

  2. […] shit and criminal in its own right, but renowned nonetheless. Cali would do well to read up on that olde exile thing, the buncha terrorists. […]

  3. […] So to the lisp-ignorant brogrammers that mistakenly maintain the perception that they can bury their mistakes in the “community” and “SOPs” and “just wanted to x” : your shit stinks to high heaven. Nevermind that you’re not good enough to write clean code, I wouldn’t let you clean the dead ladybugs stuck between the patio doors of my house. Your only saving grace is that there’s no guild from which to be banishèd. […]

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