Prison is a place of confinement for those who have been found guilty of criminal violations. Most prisons are organized and run with a focus on security above other priorities, such as rehabilitation and productive work. The conditions of incarceration typically are so restrictive as to not only lessen the offender's ability to commit certain crimes but also incapacitate him from earning money to pay restitution, costs of imprisonment, and so on. Prisoners are forbidden to operate a business or engage in trade, although as in other environments, usually some sort of highly marketable, durable, divisible commodity with high value per unit weight and volume becomes established as a currency. Cigarettes were traditionally the major prison currency, but have been largely supplanted by postage stamps. Popular commissary items that are sold at round number prices, such as a 25-cent soup or a one-dollar bag of potato chips, tend to also be used in trade and settlement of debts. Bruce L. Benson writes of the Maine State Prison, "The currency used within the internal labor market was canteen coupons, which could be spent in the prison's canteen or banked in the prison's business office."
What work there is available for prisoners to do is bureaucratically-organized are therefore tends to use labor and other resources inefficiently. Likewise, as with other government-run education departments, education programs in prison tend to be of abysmally low quality. Aside from the very basic curriculum of high school equivalency classes, the teachers are usually themselves low-paid prisoners relying mostly on their own resources. Many prisoners earn more money by setting up illicit businesses, such as performing legal work, reselling commissary items, or making greeting cards, than they earn from their regular job.
Private sector industry interest groups, such as organizations of manufacturers, have usually successfully lobbied to prevent prison systems from entering their markets and competing with them. The taxpayers fund the incarceration of offenders, so that regardless of whether or how much harm was caused by the offense, there will be additional costs to society arising from the incident. Libertarians have often advocated the reform or abolition of prisons.
Henry David Thoreau writes:
|“||Insert the text of the quote here, without quotation marks.||”|
Of course, just and honorable men are not the only kind of people one will find in prison; and the fugitive slave, the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian do not necessarily show solidarity with one another as fellow prisoners. Quite the contrary; separatism and violence among races are commonly practiced in prison, and it is rare for prisoners to present any sort of united front against their captors, except inasmuch as sometimes they can be inspired or intimidated into keeping quiet about disciplinary infractions of which they are aware. However, jailhouse snitches too are quite common, since telling is an easier way of settling scores than engaging in physical fights.
Accounts of prison experiences often describe abandonment by friends, who tend to have an attitude of "out of sight, out of mind" toward those they ostensibly liked and cared about. This can be particularly devastating to activists and cause great bitterness. Thoreau wrote that he "saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only". Alan Dershowitz notes in The Best Defense that when some students were considering screening an illegally pornographic film, he "cautioned against martyrdom; the inside of a jail cell is a lonely place after the cheering crowds have gone home." The Silent Brotherhood records that Robbie Matthews "was disgusted with the people he thought were his friends. He put into practice what he'd been taught about tax protest, was chased into the desert by IRS agents, sat in jail, and went to court without any of his associates standing up for him, save the gallant Dr. Rogers."
Prison is sometimes considered a leftist paradise in that everyone is treated equally, there's free food and medical care, and only the police and guards have guns.
- Benson, Bruce L.. "Encouraging Effective Privatization in Criminal Justice, Part II". To Serve and Protect.
- "Chris Casey" by Only Criminals Use Honest Money, 3 June 2009