Imagine that you are the Vice President of the West African country of Liberia, an elder statesman by Liberian standards who went to college with a man who is just now retiring early from his career as a Swedish prison warden because he wants to see the world, and also with a woman who is now the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, and another who is the U.S. Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department.
You fervently want to recruit the talent needed to get your country on the right track after years of civil war and economic malaise.
What do you do?
Suppose you invite all three of your well connected allies to meet you for an informal lunch at a Liberian restaurant in Washington D.C. not far from the Liberian embassy, to hear your proposal.
Liberia would extend offers to men and women serving long prison terms in federal prisons in the United States to migrate to Liberia at Liberia's expense where, under the supervision and control of the former Swedish prison warden who would provide for their daily living needs, they would apply their personal and professional skill sets to the development of the Liberian economy. Volunteers who successfully complete a five year program would be granted freedom, Liberian citizenship, a homestead and modest lump sum compensation award for their service, and an unconditional pardon for their crimes, but would have to give up their U.S. citizenship. Volunteers who were not successful in the program would be transferred to Liberian prisons to serve the remainder of their terms under their U.S. prison sentences.
A treaty negotiated by the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, and a commutation decree drafted by the U.S. Pardon Attorney, who would vet candidates for offers before they could be extended, who facilitate the arrangement.
The initial program would involve an ambitious group of 300 inmates serving sentences for crimes including securities fraud, computer crimes, drug dealing, and immigration offenses, who would receive their orientation in a shuttered Liberian military base in the Liberian countryside where they would be housed in abandoned military barracks. A similar sized class of inmates would be admitted to the program in each successive year.
The Swedish director of the program would use the techniques he used running Sweden's famously human and rehabilitation oriented prison system to help Americans who would have otherwise rotted in U.S. federal prisons for decades turn a new leaf performing meaningful work that utilizes their professional skills and cultural capital as once functional participants in advanced industrial society to developing Liberia's economy. Graduates of the program would emerge familiar with the day to day workings of the Liberian economy, more educated and skilled than the vast majority of Liberians, with international connections, and a small nest egg that could be parlayed into Liberian based business empires.
These inmates would be free of clan, tribal and political faction ties, would have no scores to settle with powerful Liberians in and out of power, and would be subtly pressured to focus on what they have in common as opposed to their own differences with each other, by the utterly foreign nature of the society and physical environment that they find themselves immersed in as part of the program. This would allow them to rise above the corruption that paralyzes so many emerging economies.
The same willingness to achieve their ends with outside the box solutions that landed them in prison in the United States might be more functional as they try to devise solutions that hidebound international development bureaucrats would never consider.
The U.S. would achieve the goal of exiling these individuals from their own society, and would save something on the order of $10 million in the first year, $20 million in the second year, $30 million in the third years, and so on, saving half a billion dollars from the federal prison budget in the first decade by reducing the number of federal inmates at the end of a decade by 3,000 people.
If the program worked well in its first decade, there is no reason it couldn't be replicated in a dozen other places.
A similar project in world history, called Australia, worked out rather well. There is no reason that it couldn't be repeated. The core principles aren't so different in either case. We shed a drain on our economy without sacrificing our principles, and Liberia receives the benefit of an economic resource which we are wasting.