This story is over 5 years old.

Pen Pals

Home Is Where the Prison Is

The latest article I’ve seen about reforming the prison system is from something called GovLab, and it’s all about “data analytics” and “geo-driven decision making” and “virtual incarceration.” It sounds all nice and fancy when they say it, but it’s...

A bunch of folks—especially think-tank scholarly types—have been talking about reforming the prison system lately because everyone who looks at how it treats inmates is like, “Whoa, this is the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever seen.” The latest article I’ve seen about this is from something called GovLab, and it’s all about “data analytics” and “geo-driven decision making” and “virtual incarceration.” It sounds all nice and fancy when they say it, but it’s pretty clear that they’re in support of some new Big Brother in-your-ass fuckery.


It is obvious to the majority of ducks that we keep too many dudes in cages, but the real reason most of these people are so hot over reform is that we are spending more on some delinquent diddler per year than it would cost to fund a year at an Ivy League school for some young, promising go-getter. On average, it costs about $80 per day to keep an inmate locked up and fed, and to waste that money on nonviolent drug offenders is stupid, especially since their lives get so derailed in prison that when they get out they need to go to rehab programs and get Medicaid and welfare for a long, dickin’ time. The GovLab guys say it’d be a lot cheaper to just stick an anklet on criminals to track ’em and try to keep them out of trouble.

If I’d never been sent to prison, and instead sent to a rehab program and shackled with an anklet, maybe I’d be in a better place than I am now, after nearly a decade popping in and out of the clink-clink. I definitely would’ve saved the good people some money. The sad fact is that prisons aren’t going to rehabilitate 90 percent of the dummies justly or unjustly tossed in there. Most of the time, inmates just kill time, while wasting taxpayers’ dollars. In theory, GovLab’s ideas—it sounds like what they’d give a bunch of criminals is a cross between house arrest and parole—are pretty decent. But then they talk about what they’re going to do to parolees, and they fuck it all up.


Basically, they want to force parolees to carry a government-issued smartphone, so their parole officers can pop up and check in whenever they like. It’s more convenient than having to go to those shitty offices, but it also means that parolees give up their last shred of privacy. These smartphones would be linked to anklets that’d let POs know when their charges “enter high-crime zones,” which means that for a lot of people, they won’t be able to go back to their old neighborhoods (which were probably high-crime as shit—that’s how those guys got in trouble in the first place) or see their old friends.

It’s really easy to take advantage of someone who’s facing jail time. If you had given me an option in 2004 to have an anklet-smartphone combo attached to me for ten years or take the three-to-nine-years prison sentence, I woulda slapped that thing on my ass quicker than you could say “stupid cracker.” I feel like almost anyone would ‘cause any amount of freedom is better than prison, but these fancy crackers are promoting some pretty invasive technology. For example, the smartphone needs to be within eight feet of the anklet at all times or an alarm goes off. In addition, it can sense motion that suggests the offender is about to commit a crime, so I guess if you’re frantically fuckin’ some muffin, you better be ready to get some FaceTime on the phone with your PO to explain the jerky motions.


It seems inevitable that this system of monitoring will be implemented eventually. Especially if it saves as much money as the good folks at GovLab claim it will—they say that electronic monitoring only costs between $5 and $25, which is good. But do we really need a way for POs to keep bothering parolees? Lots of POs are morons and I don’t want them in my bedroom with me, or giving me pep talks whenever I wander into a high-crime area. There’s also to this other idea GovLab has, which is to push to “gamify” the parole experience: using a smartphone app, inmates are gonna be able to set goals, accomplish them, and earn points to get more lenient treatment or early release. I can definitely see that positive reinforcement stuff and incentives working—it works on mice, dogs, and monkeys, so I’m sure it’ll work just fine retraining criminals brains—maybe paired with the proper pharmaceutical cocktail?

I don’t mean to shit on the authors from GovLab, who are probably just trying to get people out of jail and save the public some money. However, I’ve got bad a feeling that this is just the next step in the gradual progress by which the folks in charge are controlling more people more closely. I guess it’s inevitable, though.

I should’ve been working and fucking all those years I was locked up, and despite all the annoyances of the proposed programs, at least inmates will get to stay with their families and have a chance to do right. It’s also not as embarrassing and destructive to your life if you don’t actually do time behind bars, so any way to avoid that and the shame it causes is an improvement. It’d be way better, though, if the criminal-justice system decided to dick-slap people around less because they shouldn’t be fucking over nonviolent criminals in the first place.

Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here

Previously: Hard White Loves Twerk ‘n’ Jerk