As a libertarian, I’m often frustrated with what I view as inefficient and immoral government intrusion in the economy and in people’s personal lives. I don’t think the government should be involved in our health insurance, or for that matter, any other kind of insurance. I don’t believe the government has any business telling people whom they can and cannot marry, or what they can and cannot put into their own bodies. But I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, the United States is a lot more free than most countries throughout history, except in one area.
Obviously, prisons aren’t designed to be places of freedom. But the penal system in the United States no longer just serves the purpose of protecting free Americans from those that would use force and fraud against them. One clear example: our government locks up people for possessing substances the government decides are bad. Marijuana? Bad. Vodka? Good. Cigarettes? Fine. The line between substances that get the government’s OK and those that don’t seems pretty arbitrary—or does it? Just looking at the demographics inside prisons, it seems that government projects like the War on Drugs are racially motivated policies, at least to some extent. And of course, these policies are all funded with your tax dollars. But even if all of these policies have moral and Constitutional motives and are carried out fairly, the government still owes citizens, even the accused, many rights.
Our founding fathers recognized the dangers that come with a government that can lock people up for violating its laws, so they included lots of protections for the accused in the Bill of Rights. Many of these are overlooked as our police state grows.
Most recently, the Supreme Court case Florence v County of Burlington demonstrated our government’s willingness to step on rights it finds inconvenient. In this case, the Court ruled that Americans who are arrested and brought to prison can be strip searched even for such minor crimes as not wearing a seatbelt. Penal officers need no reasonable suspicion of danger to do so. Apparently we are not as “innocent until proven guilty” as we thought. As usual, the Court justified its ruling by saying its for our own safety (isn’t it always?).
The government can tell us that visually invasive strip searches are precautions rather than punishments, but I think many Americans believe that their government should not be able to humiliate and degrade them in this way without a trial, without a warrant, without any reason to expect danger, without anything.