by BJW Nashe

Here in the USA, our skyrocketing prison population is a huge problem. The simplest solution is to start releasing prisoners — a lot of prisoners. Then we need to help them find ways to become functioning, productive members of society. A difficult task, but not impossible. It can be done, but we must be willing to think outside the box. We have to get a little creative, and need to be willing to have some fun when it comes to looking out for our ex-cons.

pris2First of all, let’s be clear on the seriousness of the problem. During the past thirty years or so, the number of people incarcerated in American prisons has increased dramatically. Policies striving to appear “tough-on-crime,” mandatory sentencing requirements, three-strikes laws, and the War on Drugs have all contributed to the problem. At this point, the USA has the highest incarceration rate (716 out of each 100,000, per the International Center for Prison Studies) of any country in the world. The USA has 5% of the world’s population, yet it locks up 25% of the world’s total prison population. The number of people now incarcerated in the USA is somewhere between 2.0 – 2.5 million.

The sheer cost of so much incarceration puts a severe strain on our federal and state budgets. America’s annual prison expenses add up to $24,000 per inmate, with more than $5 billion in new prison construction, and approximately $60 billion in budget expenditures. Surely all of this money could be better spent in a number of constructive ways, including infrastructure projects, education, and healthcare.

Prison2In addition to costliness, the rising prison population turns our “correctional facilities” into inhumane, dangerous madhouses. Overcrowding leads to stressed-out prison guards and angry inmates. Overcrowding also increases the risk of violence, sexual assault, and rioting. In addition, there is less space available for new arrivals, some of whom are extremely violent criminals who no doubt need to be locked up.

So no one can deny that we have a serious problem on our hands. Our prison-industrial complex is such an abomination that I sometimes wonder whether most American prisons should be simply shut down, so we could start all over again from scratch. But I am a realist. I understand that we need practical solutions to our problems — solutions built upon a solid foundation of meaningful consensus. The question is what can we do, realistically, to address our over-incarceration problem?

pris3What I propose is simple: we must release a lot of prisoners — but not just any prisoners. We should only release prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes. There are plenty of them, and they should all be set free immediately. Non-violent drug dealers, petty thieves, con artists, tax evaders, prostitutes, even bankers and financiers such as Bernie Madoff — we need to let them go. We can’t afford to have them taking up space inside our costly state penitentiaries and county jails and federal prisons. It’s time to turn them loose. And we need to stop sending non-violent offenders to prison in the first place. No more War on Drugs. No more three-strikes. No more jail time for non-violent crimes.

Releasing all non-violent prisoners will provide immediate relief to our bloated and expensive prison system. The next step gets a bit tricky, though. We can’t in good faith send upwards of 1,000,000 “convicts” out onto the streets, with nowhere to go, and no prospects for the future. Obviously, we need a viable plan for all of these newly released convicts. We need a strategy that will help put them to work, so they can play a worthwhile role in society. This is where we need to get creative in order to make real progress.

I know what you are probably thinking. However “non-violent” these prisoners may be, many of them have substance abuse problems. They most likely suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional/behavioral disorder. How can they possibly function as productive members in society?

Reality TVMy response is simple: let’s put our troubled ex-cons to work in an industry where drug abuse and mental illness are quite common — where these characteristics are, in fact, even encouraged. I am referring to the entertainment industry, where just about everyone seems to be either somewhat deranged, hooked on mind-altering substances, or a combination of both. Here even the craziest and most drug addicted ex-cons should have little or no problem fitting in. Indeed, this is an environment where most of our newly released prisoners should feel right at home. Here is a place where they should be able to move ahead and positively thrive.

But doesn’t the entertainment industry require some sort of special talent or skill? First of all, I think it is a mistake to underestimate the abilities of our prisoners, and to dismiss them offhandedly. Who knows what hidden talents lurk in that incarcerated mass of Porn3humanity? Surely there are stars just waiting to be born inside those dank and musty cells. Second, while certain aspects of the entertainment industry may require advanced skills such as singing, dancing, acting, or playing instruments, this is by no means true across the board. Two types of entertainment in particular seem to be open to just about anyone. I am referring to the bustling world of reality TV, and the even more popular domain of online pornography. This is precisely where we need to direct our newly released prisoners. Reality TV and online porn allow individuals with little or no talent to achieve massive, mind-bending success. This is where our ex-cons will have their best chance of living out their own version of the American Dream.

It’s really a no-brainer. We release all non-violent prisoners, then put them on reality TV shows, or turn them into porn stars. In effect, we will be making them into celebrities. What could be simpler, more effective, and more fun? What better way to situate our newly released prisoners right at the center of the current American zeitgeist? It’s so perfect, and it’s damn near patriotic. I think we have a duty to do this. And I think we can make it can work.

adv_comebacks 01We already have reality TV shows about people in prison. For instance, we have the Lockup series that inexplicably appears on MSNBC after Rachel Maddow on Friday night, and then continues all through the weekend. Why not have similar shows about people just released from prison? Group them together in houses or condos, like MTV’s Real World, with giant hot tubs and cabinets full of booze. Think of it: Ex-Cons Gone Wild on Spring Break; Ex-Con Jersey Shore; Ex-Con Survivor; Ex-Con Fear Factor. Or place them in more therapeutic settings, such as Dr. Drew’s Halfway House, or Dr. Phil’s Tough Love Bonanza. There could be dating contests, such as The Ex-Con Bachelor (or Bachelorette). Or how about Dancing with the Ex-Con Stars? Or American Idol: Straight Outta Prison? America’s Ex-Cons Got Talent. Ex-Cons in Tiaras. Ex-Con Home Improvement. Ex-Con Iron Chef. The possibilities are endless.

Granted, many of our current reality TV shows already feature plenty of ex-cons. What I am envisioning, however, are entire new cable networks devoted solely to ex-con programming. Our newly released prisoners will be more than happy to appear in all kinds of Duck Dynastysettings that positively reek of deep, funky Americana: tattoo parlors, gun shops, alligator ranches, strip clubs, casinos, crack houses, cage-fighting arenas, etc. Don’t forget that Duck Dynasty is now one of the highest rated shows in TV history. Who’s to say that ex-con reality TV cannot follow in the wondrous footsteps of that landmark program?

Certain ex-cons might even be willing to participate on established cable news shows, joining this or that panel of experts on Fox or CNN to weigh-in on the latest high-profile, media-circus trial. When it comes to defendants such as Jodi Arias and George Zimmerman, why not let some former prisoners share their unique perspectives? As a viewer, I would love to see Nancy Grace chatting with crackheads and thieves about some outlandish new criminal proceeding.

Porn1As for online pornography, this hardly requires any explanation. We simply need to find investors willing to put up the money for specialized web sites featuring ex-cons engaging in just about every known sexual activity. No kids or animals, of course. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes. Just livestreaming, sweaty, ex-con sex. The web sites can be subscription only, or they might be free, in which case funding will be obtained strictly through advertising. Don’t tell me that Americans are not interested in this sort of thing. Last I checked, more than half the country was addicted to online porn. We are talking about basic supply-and-demand economics here. We know there is plenty of demand. It’s just a matter of shrewdly marketing this particular product — “Online ex-con porn is so hot! It should be illegal!” — which shouldn’t be too much trouble. Far worse things — all kinds of worthless, even harmful junk — is successfully sold to millions of Americans all the time. So the online ex-con porn endeavor should be a slam dunk.

I hope people will at least give this modest proposal some thought. I think it makes sense for America. If nothing else, it might help to restore some sanity to our prison system, and could very well make our entertainment even more diverse and exciting than it already is.


8 Responses to A Modest Proposal to Reduce Our Gargantuan Prison Population

  1. Lise Lasalle says:

    You really got me there. I was singing restorative justice until I started reading the rest.

    It is brilliantly funny. You might be on to something.

  2. Peter Prasad says:

    Make them do community service and answer 911 calls.

  3. Max Myers says:


    Brill, mate, brill.

  4. Ergon says:

    Yes, the privately run prisons, especially the young reeducation camps, and the companies dependant on cheap prison labour will love the idea!

    Too much invested in having a high prison population, plus felons don’t get to vote, so let’s skew elections by targeting certain populations. As state and Feds figured out a long time ago.

  5. Bouncin Barb says:

    I can come up with a few ideas. Send the 3x losers to pig farms and watch them disappear. Sexual predators need to become food for the pig farms. Death row inmates should not be given 20 years to hang around. Send them over to Italy to visit Simone Pepe! We can then get back to a normal prison population and the revenue from the pork industry can help with the costs of running them!!

  6. chami says:

    The judicial industrial complex.

    Can you break the incentive to take more prisoners?

    You say that 60B dollars are going into the system. Where does it go from there?

    Trace the money and you will learn! It is not a rocket science.

  7. Rick says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post! The second portion is a true thought experiment. Maybe we can even sell naming rights to the new reality TV shows to raise additional funds for job-training programs for the newly released ex-cons. Are there any takers for: “Mutual of Omaha’s Ex-Cons in the Wild”? What about “Kay Jewelry’s ‘Who Wants to Marry an Ex-Con'”? Or “Madoff Enterprises-Goldman Sack’s ‘My Ponzi Scheme is Bigger Than Yours'”?

    Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the pornography aspect of your proposal will never happen in neo-puritanical America. It will not “sell in Peoria,” or more accurately, in the post-antebellum, Bible Belt South.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      “Madoff Enterprises-Goldman Sack’s ‘My Ponzi Scheme is Bigger Than Yours’”? is a sure-fire winner. And this show actually exists. It’s just not on television yet. They’re running neck and neck but the smart money boys are going with Goldman Sack’s.

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