Ocasio-Cortez: Prisons are slavery's legacy, so let's abolish them, or something

Ocasio-Cortez: Prisons are slavery's legacy, so let's abolish them, or something

What happens when one starts truly believing in one’s own word salads? One tweets out nonsense like this, promising “prison abolition” while drawing non-existent lines between prisons and “apartheid” in America. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claims that prisons and incarceration result from the “same lineage” as slavery, and that “decarceration & prison abolition” are the conversations of the future (via Twitchy):

Lest one think that “prison abolition” is hyperbole for criminal-justice reform, Ocasio-Cortez followed that up with this tweet:

Doesn’t the “drank out of toilets” charge sound familiar? Why, yes it does. It turned out that the immigration detention facility that drew AOC’s ire in that case used toilet fixtures that also included a sink and fountain. It’s likely that similar fixtures are used in other detention facilities to save space and provide humane basic services.

At any rate, the demand prompts an obvious question: what do you do with human beings who commit crimes, especially violent crimes? And how do you keep them in those places without making them secure, not just from escape but also from the other “guests”? My guess is that the “real conversation” will avoid that part of the discussion at all costs to focus on the roots of the prison system in slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, and maybe even the heartbreak of psoriasis.

If we want to get really real, Ocasio-Cortez would first have to admit being totally ignorant of the subject. Prisons and jails predate Jim Crow and American slavery by about three millennia. The English system of justice, from which ours derived, began building prisons in the twelfth century under Henry II, and was significant enough at the time that the barons forced his son King John to reform penal processes in the Magna Carta by requiring a trial. Prisons and penal colonies have persisted over the years for the same reason we have them now — because we have to isolate some criminals from society as a disincentive to crime, and to protect everyone else from the criminals.

If Ocasio-Cortez wants to put fewer people in prison, perhaps she could use her current office to begin repealing the appalling expansion of federal laws and prosecutions for crimes that truly fall within state jurisdictions. That at least would help depopulate the federal prisons to some extent, as well as make people more free overall. That, however, won’t help Ocasio-Cortez put together her word salads about racism and toilet-drinking, so don’t hold your breath.

Update: Hans Bader argues that we don’t have a “mass incarceration” problem, but an under-incarceration problem. He’s got some compelling data on that point as well. But even if we did have a “mass incarceration” problem, why would the solution to that be abolishing prisons altogether?

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