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Voluntary slave prisons

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Prisons are supposed to serve some combination of four purposes: punishment; deterrence; rehabilitation; and public protection.

The first two of these (punishment and deterrence) are effectively one and the same: the deterrent effect of prison depends on how punishing it is (and, of course, on the perceived risk of being caught). So, we are down to punishment, rehabilitation and public protection. The latter two are also closely intertwined (a truly rehabilitated offender would, by definition, not reoffend on release), so things boil down to punishment and rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is not best done in a regular prison. The environment is not usually conducive; prisoners learn new criminal skills; and, in any case, someone who has lost 10 years out of their life is going to find it all the harder to return to society as a model citizen.


MaxConvict, Inc., is in discussions with the government to set up Slave Prisons around the country.

Slave prisons mete out much harsher punishment than regular prisons, but there is a trade-off.

Suppose a young offender is given a sentence of 15 years for a serious assault. He (or she) can opt to serve that time in a regular prison, in which case he will serve the usual term, as is the case now.

However, the offender can, *entirely at his own discretion* choose to go to Slave Prison, under one of several degrees of punishment. He can opt for the Slave Lite option: in this case, he is given a smaller cell than a regular prison, fewer socialising and excercise opportunities, no TV etc*. In exchange for the increased hardship of this incarceration, his tariff is reduced to, say, 9 years.

Or, he might opt to go for the next level, in which things are even more unpleasant: harsher conditions, forced labour, etc - nothing which places his life or health in danger, but which makes his life very unpleasant. In this case, his tariff is reduced more, perhaps to only 5 years of this living purgatory.

Finally (and at this point I am suspect I'm skating on thin eggshells without a paddle), the offender can opt (again, entirely at his own discretion) to compress all his punishment into the minimum period of time: 15 sessions, spread over 15 weeks, of a treatment which inflicts excruciating pain for 24 hours, but which causes no permanent damage.

At any point, the offender can say "Enough!!" and return to normal prison. In this case, their tariff is still reduced by some amount, proportional to the increased punishment they endured.

I suspect that many young offenders, who still had a chance at a decent life, might favour this option if given the choice. It would also of course relieve the pressure on the prison service if some tariffs were shortened.

Finally, of course, this does nothing to address the question of rehabilitation. But, if what one hears about "rehabilitation" in most prisons is true, this is no great loss. Indeed, prisoners leaving early under this system would be eligible for rehabilitation (with luck) on the outside instead, in an environment where it might be more effective.

[*I am not taking a position on the popular view that normal prison life is too soft or too harsh; I'm simply taking it as a baseline.]

MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 04 2010


       just bring back the *chain gangs*! they do more work than the State road crews!
xandram, Mar 04 2010

       Why object to giving the prisoner a choice? If the object is punishment (with which I agree, incidentally), then you are just giving them the option of how quickly they endure a fixed quantity of punishment (capital punishment, of course, squeezes it all into one final moment, albeit without the choice). If they opt to suffer more intensely for a shorter time, you're paying less of your money to enable them to do so.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 04 2010

       Quite true, and I did point out that this does not address the question of rehabilitation. I didn't realize the current system worked so well.   

       And, if you worry that they'll take what will be, to them, a soft option, then it's easy: adjust (iteratively) the tariff reduction until only 50% of prisoners opt for the new system. That way, you know that the perceived punishment of the two systems is equal.   

       It may be a bad idea, but I'm happy to defend it.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 04 2010

       sounds like an intermediate stage between existing penal systems and the false-memory ones penned (no pun intended) in some SF pieces. [ ]: what [21Quest] said.   

       ... almost a bun though: I think allowing a prisoner to plan their own sentence might produce people less inclined to take the "easy way" (as criminality is often portrayed) once out.
FlyingToaster, Mar 04 2010

       Your proposal is, from an economist's point of view, all sound and fine. The adaptive tariff reduction I like especially. But as recent news show again, we should never, ever give the state or government (or any private company like MaxConvict Inc.) the right to inflict pain on anyone. Because they will use it. Therefore: [-]
Toto Anders, Dec 14 2014

       I was about to ask what idiot posted this idea, but I see it was me.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 14 2014


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