Stateless Prisons

Containing Danger without Enslaving Citizens
By Stefan Molyneux, MA
Host, Freedomain Radio -

One of the great challenges of anarchistic philosophy is the challenge of prisons, or the physical restraint of violent criminals. I have dealt with this topic once before, but I am still receiving numerous requests for clarifications on how a stateless society might deal with violent criminals. So - let us examine the punitive mechanisms that might exist in the absence of a coercive state system.

Firstly, we can assume that in the absence of a state, private protection agencies (called here DROs, for Dispute Resolution Organizations) will necessarily band together to deny the advantages of a modern economic life to those individuals who egregiously harm their fellow citizens. Such necessities as bank accounts, credit, transportation, lodging, food and so on, can all be withheld from those who have been proven to have committed violent crimes. Also, in a stateless society, since there is no such thing as ‘public’ property, violent criminals would have a tough time getting anywhere, since roads, parks, forests and so on would all be owned privately. Anybody providing aid or comfort to a person convicted of a violent crime would face a withdrawal of services and protections from their own DRO, and so would avoid giving such help.

However, this solution alone has not been sufficient for some people, who still feel that sociopathic and violent criminals need to be physically restrained or imprisoned for society to be safe.

First of all, before tackling this issue, I would like to point out that if the problem of violent sociopaths is very extensive, then surely any moral justifications for the existence of a state become that much more untenable. If society literally swarms with evil people, then those evil people will surely overwhelm the state, the police, and the military, and prey upon legally disarmed citizens to their hearts content. If, however, there are very few evil people, then we surely do not need a state to protect us from such a tiny problem. In other words, if there are a lot of evil people, we cannot have a state - and if there are few evil people, then we do not need a state.

However, let us imagine what happens to a rapist in a stateless society. All general DRO contracts will include ‘rape protection’, since DROs will want to avoid incurring the medical, psychological and income costs of a rape for one of their own customers. Part of ‘rape protection’ will be the provision of significant financial restitution to a rape victim. (Women who can’t afford ‘rape protection’ will be subsidized by charities - or lawyers will represent them pro bono in return for a cut of the restitution.)

If a woman gets raped, she then applies to her DRO for restitution. The DRO then finds her rapist - using the most advanced forensic techniques available - and sends an agent to knock on his door.

“Good morning, sir,” the agent will say. “You have been charged with rape, and I'm here to inform you of your options. We wish to make this process as painless and non-intrusive as possible for you, and so will schedule a trial at the time of your earliest convenience. If you do not attend this trial, or testify falsely, or attempt to flee, we shall apply significant sanctions against you, which are outlined in your existing DRO contract. Our agreement with your bank allows us to freeze your assets - except for basic living and legal expenses - the moment that you are charged with a violent crime. We also have agreements with airlines, road, bus and train companies to prevent you from leaving town until this matter is resolved.

“You can represent yourself in this trial, choose from one of our lawyers, or we will pay for any lawyer you prefer, at standard rates. Also, as per our existing contract, we are to be allowed access to your home for purposes of investigation. You are free to deny us this access, of course, but then we shall assume that you are guilty of the crime, and will apply all the sanctions allowed to us by contract.

“If you are found to be innocent of this crime, we will pay you the sum of twenty thousand dollars, to be funded by the woman who has charged you with rape. We will also offer free psychological counseling for you, in order to help you avoid such accusers in the future.”

The trial will commence, and will return a verdict in due course.

If the man is found guilty, he will receive another visit from his DRO representative.

“Good afternoon, sir,” the agent will say. “You have been found guilty of rape, and I'm here to inform you of your punishment. We have a reciprocal agreement with your bank, which has now closed down your accounts, and transferred the money to us. We will be deducting double the costs of our investigation and trial from your funds, and will also be transferring half a million dollars to the woman you have raped. We also have reciprocal agreements with the companies that provide water and electricity to your house, and those will now be cut off. Furthermore, no gas station will sell you gasoline, and no train station, airline or bus company will sell you a ticket. We have made arrangements with all of the local grocery stores to deny you service, either in person or online. If you set foot on the street outside your house, which is owned privately, you will be physically removed for trespassing.

“Of course, you have the right to appeal this sentence, and if you successfully appeal, we would transfer our costs to the woman who has accused you of rape, and pay you well for the inconvenience we have caused you. If, however, your appeal fails, all additional costs will be added to your debt.

“I can tell you openly that if you choose to stay in your house, you will be unable to survive very long. You will run out food and water very quickly. You can attempt to escape your own house, of course, leaving all of your possessions, and try to make it to some wilderness area. If you do successfully escape, be aware that you are now entered into a central registry, and no reputable DRO will ever represent you. Furthermore, all DROs which have reciprocal agreements with us - which is the vast majority of them - will withdraw services from their own customers if those customers provide you with any goods or services. You will never be able to open a bank account, use centralized currency, carry a credit card, own a car, buy gas, use a road, use any other form of transportation - and gaining food, water and lodging will be a constant nightmare for you. You will spend your entire life running, hiding and begging, and will never find peace, solace or comfort in any place.

“However, there is an option. If you come with me, we will take you to a place of work for a period of five years. During that time, you will be working for us in a capacity which will be determined by your skills. If you do not have any viable skills, we will train you. Your wages will go to us, and we will deduct the costs of your incarceration, as well as any of the costs I outlined above which are not covered by your existing funds. A small amount of your wages will be set aside to help get you started after your release.

“During your stay with us, we will help you, because we do not want to have to go through all of this again with you in the future. You will take courses on ethics. You will take courses on anger management. You will take psychological counseling. You will emerge from your incarceration a far better person. And when you do emerge, all of your full rights will be restored, and you will be able to fully participate once more in the economic and social life of society.

“You have a choice now, and I want you to understand the full ramifications of that choice. If you come with me now, this is the best offer that I can give you. If you decide to stay in your house, and later change your mind, the penalties will be far greater. If you escape, and later change your mind, the penalties will be far greater still. In our experience, 99.99% of people who either run or stay end up changing their minds, and end up that much worse off. The remaining 0.01? Oh, they commit suicide.

“The choice is now yours. Do the right thing. Do the wise thing. Come with me now.”

Can we really imagine that anyone would choose to stay in their own house and die of thirst, unable to even flush their toilet? Can we imagine that anyone would choose a life of perpetual running and hiding and begging? Even if the rapist had no interest in becoming a better person, surely the cost/benefit of the options outlined above would convince him!

There will always be a small number of truly evil or insane people within society. There are far, far better ways of dealing with them than our existing system of dehumanizing, brutal and destructive state gulags, which generally serve only to expand their criminal skills and contacts. Also, it is important to remember that the existing state prisons have barely any evil or insane people in them! The vast majority of those in jail are nonviolent offenders, enslaved and in chains because they used recreational drugs, or gambled, or went to a prostitute, or didn't pay all their taxes, or other such innocuous nonsense – or turned to crime because state ‘vice’ prohibitions made crime so profitable!

Our choice, then, is between a system which removes the tiny minority of evil people from society, rehabilitates them if possible, and makes them work productively to support their own confinement - or a state system which spends most of its time and energies enslaving innocent people, while letting the evil and insane roam free.

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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June 2024

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