TALK: “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”

text "prisons are for burning" with a lit match under a guard tower

Transcript of talk originally given Feb. 24, 2019

Hi. So, the name of my talk is “Why We Should Abolish Prisons”. I am going to—I didn’t put warning on the announcement, and I should have. There’s going to be some discussion of sexual assault and violence. So, hopefully it’s not gratuitous, but it is kind of necessary to what we’re talking about.

So, as I started doing the research for this, I actually discovered new information—things coming up in the news—and I ended up changing what this subject was going to be about. With your indulgence, I’m actually going to talk about something completely different, which is that, in the People’s Republic of China, they have the largest prison population in the world, and out of every 100,000 adults and children there, about 650 of them are going to be held in some sort of coercive custody. Currently, about double that are going to be monitored by various organs of the nation’s state security apparatus.

While this is something that affects all groups, to some extent, among ethnic Uighurs— among the Muslim Turkic ethnic minority—this is something where they’re going to be about six times more likely to be in a mass re-education camp than, say, a Mandarin, the dominant group. There is about a one-in-three chance that a Uighur man will be seized, confined in a cage, and monitored, sometimes for years. Especially when they’re between the ages of 18 and 29, which is pretty terrible.

Although there are no official sources that keep track of this, private human rights organizations determined that about 465,000 of those that are being forcibly held in the People’s Republic of China have not even had a show trial to justify why their freedom was being restricted. About 350,000 of those that are being held without a trial are not even accused of any violent, antisocial behavior. Primarily, this consists of those who are too poor to bribe a judge with a contribution to an immediate province or locality.

And although this is a pretty massive police state, among OECD nations, only Mexico, Turkey, and Estonia have a higher violent crime rate than the People’s Republic of China, and this is despite the PRC not counting any of the violence that routinely happens within their mass re-education camps. Any statistics, particularly sexual assault, it’s just—it doesn’t exist.

That’s why I think it’s very important for China to reform its mass re-education camps. It needs to do a better job of making sure that they are a little nicer when they seize ethnic Turkic minorities from their homes, and just make it so it’s a little more pleasant for people when they’re forced to be held there, particularly women and children.

Hopefully, all that sounded ridiculous to you; that was the point.

All of those statistics that I just gave were for the United States.

If you map it over, instead of Turkic ethnic minorities, you get Black Americans. Instead of the dominant Mandarins, it’s the whites. It should sound ridiculous to say that “we are going to reform mass re-education camps in China,” but that’s what we often say about prison in the United States. Yet we don’t really think about it that way.

It is my contention that saying “we need to reform prison in the United States” is like saying, “we need to reform the Soviet gulag system”. It’s like saying “we need to reform the Japanese internment camps during WW2”.

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