The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Kobayashi Maru

An Octopus

At group today, I found a way to Kobayashi Maru the prisoner’s dilemma.

The prisoner’s dilemma is an example in game theory that has no obvious solution. John and Frank were arrested for an alleged robbery, in our example, a warehouse. The idea is that the two prisoner’s are separated and interrogated independently by the police. The police say that if you confess and implicate the other person, you’ll only get 1 year in prison and the other will get 20, but if both of you confess, you’ll both get 10 years.

The prisoner’s dilemma that pits loyalty against self-preservation. There isn’t any clear way to behave. It’s a test of character and the relationship between two people.

Kobayashi Maru is a famous incident in Star Trek history. It’s a simulation of a battle with the Klingons. Basically, the captain can’t win and will end up dying along with the rest of his crew.

Kirk, famously, cheated and reprogrammed the simulator to let him win.

So me and my partner come up with a backstory to the alleged crime. The two of us had been friends since 7th grade. When were were 20, we went to prison because of a automobile theft. Now the pair was 35. About a month before the arrest and warehouse incident, we’d had a falling out because of a mutual love interest.

So, my out-of-the-box solution: I confessed that I had done it, but the other person was innocent. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was actually a third person who was my co-conspirator in the robbery. In my mind when we played out the game, I was telling the truth and not just making up a story for the friend. But, regardless, I think it would blow out of the water any deal that the police had proposed.

In the experiment that we did today, the other person confessed as well, so according to the rules of the dilemma, we would both get 10 years in prison. The group leader didn’t reveal my actual note….

In summary, I had used my loyalty to my friend to help him out. It threw the whole situation in the air so that a prosecutor be required to sort it all out and the police wouldn’t have the tidy mutual confession.

It certainly would not be good for me in my solution. I used my loyalty to my friend to, potentially, put my life at risk. If the third person was vengeful, he could easily arrange for me to be killed.

So, I broke the dilemma, just as Kirk had broke the Kobayashi Maru simulation.

The Privatization of Prisons

Free enterprise and competition make some government functions more efficient and less expensive. However, there is a subtle downside to this and private prisons are the most pernicious example.

The problem is that once a private company controls government functions, their incentive is to increase profits. For private prisons, an easy way to increase profits is to increase the number of prisoners that they hold with longer sentences and less judicial discretion.

They will lobby for legislation that helps them out. They support an attitude that jail sentences should increase, regardless of the wisdom of judges and juries. High minimum sentence guidelines and the demonization of certain crimes are in their best interest. They need to influence the public debate.

With those incentives, the hidden victims are the families and communities. The criminals are easy to attack. “Let’s get tough on crime” can be a mantra that the prison industry chants. However, they need to be creative to keep their stockholder’s bottom line in focus. Lobbying at the state and federal level are an inexpensive tool for that.

Without changes, the insane level of imprisonment in our country is only going to worsen. There’s much less incentive for education and rehabilitation of the prisoners. That would harm the private prison’s bottom line. A revolving door on their prisons is what they really want.

Putting the jails and prisons in the hands of private enterprise might save money in the short term, but it revokes the ability of the public to influence the criminal justice system.

Individuals don’t have the ability to compete with a wealthy prison lobby. They may not even be aware that the lobbyists hidden agenda is in play.

It is easy for politicians to support tougher crime policies and more and more difficult for them to influence these circumstances that they are ultimately responsible for.