One Market We Do Not Need
In response to Prison Vouchers by Alexander Volokh
Professor Volokh is right that American prisons are considered to be “low quality,” and that they suffer from “high violence rates, bad medical care, [and] overuse of highly punitive measures like administrative segregation . . . .” But his proposed solution—a system of “prison vouchers” that would permit prisoners to choose their facilities and thus create a market for prison services—would provide only an illusion of choice. Even worse, such a system runs the risk of strengthening the self-interested forces that drive our overgrown system of incarceration.
I commend Professor Volokh for drawing attention to the problem of abysmal prison conditions and for making the important, and too often ignored, point that “bad prison conditions often indirectly hurt the rest of society.” And I thank him for creating the opportunity for a thoughtful exchange about these critical issues. However, his proposal—though fascinating—is flawed.
It is easy to quibble with the specifics of Professor Volokh’s proposal and to suggest ways in which it will not work. In the piece, he identifies and counters some of the critiques that I will expand on in this brief Response. But the central problem of the proposal is not the possibility of “market failure” or “market success.” Fundamentally, what makes me uneasy about Professor Volokh’s proposal is that it reinforces a market mindset toward prisons and the people that they contain.
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