Prison: Fast-forward to 2119
The year is 2119 and you’ve just been sentenced to 10 years for stealing someone’s personal air vehicle, aka, flying car. Now let’s try and imagine what kind of punishment the authorities might meter out. Maybe you’ll be sent to a penal colony, except this colony is on Mars and there you’ll be doing hard labor since there’s a lot of work to be done up there. Or perhaps you’ll be cryogenically frozen, and kept that way for 10 years. Think about it, this is one way to remove a menace to society and when they are awakened it’s unlikely they’ll want to go to sleep again. They won’t have aged, so you could say it’s a humane way to punish someone.
How state prisons work
As you know if you watch any of our medieval torture videos, the way we punish a prisoner has evolved over time. Back in the day you could say humans were quite brutal, and for even small infractions a person might be beaten, whipped, branded, or even blinded. For the bigger crimes an inmate might have been burned at the stake, crucified, broken on the rack, pulverized on the wheel, or had their limbs pulled off. We put an end to that kind of thing for the most part but then subject an inmate to hard labor, the kind of labor someone was lucky to survive. At the moment, most countries use incarceration, we simply deny a person his or her freedom. Some justice systems are more progressive than others, i.e. some countries focus more on rehabilitation than mere segregation from society, but we have been stuck with putting people behind bars for quite a number of time. History tells us that how we punish will evolve again, and the prison systems of the future will be very different from how they are today.
Exemplary prison policy
There is a lot of information out there regarding what we call prison reform. You can find certain groups applauding prison policy initiative in Norway, where incarcerated people in one correctional facility we saw are housed in cells that look more like private housing with all the basic resources. Prisoners are treated well, eat well, can be educated and have fulfilling jobs while on the inside. An inmate is allowed access to online resources like Facebook or YouTube, so they could be watching this show. Norway also has a very low recidivism rate, meaning incarcerated people tend not to commit a crime again once they are released. They are, in many cases, rehabilitated. You can also find critics of the current jail system saying many prisoners are actually mentally ill and need to be treated rather than locked in a box by the correctional officials, while a lot of progressive voices tell us non-violent drug users shouldn’t be locked up because they bought their day’s supply on the street and got frisked on the way home.
A sign of things to come in the federal prison system
We will go out on a limb and say many countries around the world will soon begin to take a more progressive system to why and how we lock inmates up. Come 2119 our views on this will have progressed a lot more, and we really can’t say how. We do imagine, though, that an incarceration facility will be less about punishment and more about rehabilitation. That said, there will always be nasty people in the world that we don’t want on our streets. There will always be scammers who delight in taking people’s life savings; there will always be people with sadistic impulses that do things to others that make our stomachs churn. We can also say there will likely be people that defy rehabilitation and keep re-offending. Perhaps these people will be punished in a way that right now we see as futuristic.
As we said, perhaps one kind of punishment to take people off the streets but not really harm them is to freeze them in time. It’s painless for the prisoner and it serves society to have them gone for a while. Is it humane? Well, you can tell us what you think about that later.
Freezing the prisoners
First of all, when we talk about freezing the body these days we mean after we die and we call this “Cryonics.” The website Cryonics.org tells us people who’ve been “cryopreserved” might be revived or reanimated in the future when technologies have improved. Those technologies might be related to the fields of 3-D printing, stem cell research, nanotechnology and molecular biology. Lots of people have opted to be cryopreserved around the world, with about 250 people already in the deep-freeze and another 1,500 signed up for it.
No mammal to this date has ever been reanimated fully after being totally frozen. Cryonics.org tells us, “Although a whole mammal has not yet been cryopreserved to cryogenic temperatures and revived, science is moving in that direction.” How much does it cost? One of the main places to get this done is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in the USA and the total cost could be around $80,000 – $200,000 depending on various factors. The Cryonics Institute will do a full-body freeze for as cheap as $28,000, although for tham, it seems you don’t get regular attention. You are merely stored. If you get this done in Russia the cost can be as low as $12,000.
Will cryogenically freezing people work?
To do this, though, you have to be legally dead. Cryonics advocates hope that this will change, because they believe someone who is terminally ill could be frozen and then brought back to life when medical technology can easily cure them. With inmates of course, they could be frozen when in good health. Right now this is the stuff of science fiction. There is no real foundation at this time to say it can be done, but we don’t know how technology will improve. It wouldn’t be absolutely wild to imagine a future when this is possible. It’s speculation right now, though, not based on actual science, and that’s why right now some people who believe in it are sometimes called “kooks.” For one thing, the detractors say, the body after being frozen will be just too damaged to ever be revived. It’s a matter of fact that when ice builds up in human cells it can destroy those cells. Maybe with the assistance of nanotechnology cells can be brought back to room temperature safely, but right now that’s a long shot.
That said, if you could go back in time, say 200 years ago, and ask a scientist what he or she thinks about some present day technologies they might say “not a chance”, “don’t be silly.” We just don’t know what’s ahead of us. If humans have avoided global catastrophe come 2119 and have in fact progressed as a species, maybe they will watch this clip and say, “Oh boy, you really had no idea what was coming.”
What about Mars as a penal colony, a bit like Australia was in the past?
Well, it’s unlikely right now as just to put a person in space costs millions of dollars. That may all change come 2119, though, but even if great breakthroughs in space travel do happen, will we send prisoners to the new home? You might have heard tech wizard Elon Musk say that a place to live on Mars, called “Mars Base Alpha”, could be built by 2028. But he’s not talking about a place anyone can live, replete with dollar stores and fast-food restaurants, he’s talking about a place a highly trained astronaut could visit for an astronomical- pun fully intended- amount of money. Even if they did get there by 2028, there is no way we’d be sending prisoners up there for a long, long time. Even if we could send prisoners to Mars, it would be an ethical minefield. If they’d be doing all the dangerous jobs and still be confined in some ways, as we said already this kind of punishment is outdated and seen as cruel and inhumane. With present changes in mind, if we did send prisoners to Mars it would only be if they lived in good conditions and were trained to do useful jobs in which their safety was paramount. Still, because of how extremely difficult it would be not just to get to Mars, land on it, build on it, and live safely on it, we don’t even think 2119 is far away enough to be federal putting an inmate up there. We just cannot see that happening.
We do see prison populations being reduced in the near future and countries figuring out better ways to rehabilitate rather than just lock people up for them to come out no better or even worse. In the distant future, though, maybe we will freeze people in time when the powers that be see no way in changing their ways.
How do you think prisons in the future will look? Will we value rehabilitation over punishment? Tell us in the comments.