The most humane penal system I can imagine would be an imaginary jail. Under the pretend jail system, convicted criminals would simply disappear in a government-marked van, leaving the citizens to speculate about their fate.  Is the government killing these convicts? Are they being tortured?

Imagine a system in which convicted criminals are secretly relocated to distant countries and given jobs, with the cooperation of the receiving government. I would think it's cheaper to relocated, train, and employ a criminal in a third-world country than it would be to incarcerate him in the United States.

Obviously this is a good deal for convicted criminals. A new life is better than decades in jail. And a society with an imaginary jail wins too because potential repeat offenders would be offshore. As a bonus, it might be cheaper for the government than building new jails.

Potential criminals would still fear getting caught because the unknown is scary. People would imagine the worst. Why else would the system be so secret? Is the government doing medical experiments? The deterrent effect of pretend jail might actually be stronger than today. Jail is probably worse than a potential criminal imagines whereas pretend jail might be far worse in the imagination than in reality. Deterrents are psychological in nature, so the unknown might be the scariest possible scenario.

The pretend jail system has some challenges, of course. It would be hard to keep the whole thing secret, for starters. And it might be hard to find a country that wants to accept criminals in return for cash. But what fascinates me about this thought experiment is that it feels so unsatisfactory that the criminals are not punished. Why should I care about punishment as long as society's goal of reducing crime is satisfied? We can't go back in time and undo the crime. I should only care about the future, not the past.

If you knew for sure that the pretend jail system was the best way to keep both crime and taxes low, would you agree to such a system?  Or would you insist on punishing criminals even if it means higher taxes and higher crime in your neighborhood?

How much is revenge worth to you?

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Jan 10, 2013
"Let's take it a step farther: Suppose a psychopath murdered a member of your family. You can either send them to prison for 20 years, or you can make them undergo a treatment that fixes their psychopathy and removes any violent tendencies, making them an unusually-safe member of society, after which they are immediately released. Which would you choose? "

in a proper prison system, one designed to punish rather than reward crime, one in which 20 years is not something one is likely to survive, give him 20 years.
In the current system, give him that frontal lobotomy.

" I think they tried this already and called it Australia?"
And America had much of the same. A lot of people were deported to America, afaik more than went to Australia.
Didn't work too well, they rebelled and took over the place.
Jan 2, 2013
1. What exactly keeps the criminals from returning here and committing more crime? A no-fly list? Ha!
2. I'm not sure it would feel right to me if my wife's killer got sentenced to being some rich guy's pool boy in southeast Asia.
Dec 24, 2012

Cant speak for Scott but Id feel about the same way as I feel about the flaws in our current system.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 24, 2012
Revenge is not worth much to me but habeus corpus is. I would not be in favor of such a system if it were secret. As other commenters have pointed out, it would be impossible to maintain the secrecy, so that probably doesn't matter so much.

However, how do you prevent abuse? How do you keep people like Romney or Obama from using the system to ship all their opponents out of the country? The penal system already makes mistakes and punishes the wrong people some of the time. So some percentage of your exiles will be innocent. How do you feel about that?
Dec 24, 2012
Mr. Adams. You have obviously never had to deal with a psychopath / sociopath
Dec 24, 2012
How much is revenge worth to you?

A lot!
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 24, 2012
Imprisonment of a different kind:

Long ago, in the land of Agropolis, there was a kind man who had 100 donkeys.

A traveller stopped by once to wonder how this man managed to keep the donkeys from straying away. He couldn't possibly tie every one of them.

So, the traveller stood aside and watched the kind man going about the job.

The man pretended to hold an imaginary rope, went to each donkey and turned his hand around its neck; then walked upto a post nearby and pretended to tie a firm knot. He did that only to the few donkeys in the front row.

The traveller noticed the foolishness and decided to teach a lesson. He whacked the donkeys in the back, hoping to cause a riot. Nothing happened. The donkeys wouldn't move till the front row moved.

So, he whacked those in the front row. They wouldn't move either, because they believed they were tied by this invisible rope.

Next morning, the kind man came back and pretended to undo the rope. The donkeys scattered in gay abandon!


Moral: Pretend systems are as good as pretend jails.


Dec 24, 2012
Dec 24, 2012
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Dec 23, 2012
The idea of irrevocable exile is very appealing, but how possible is it in today's world? If criminals want to come back, a good percentage will find a way. A larger percentage will certainly end up where they'd be dangerous to the locals.

We have to resign ourselves to the idea that people will have to be locked up; some for life unless we can make the death penalty a bit less random. Our bigger problem is all the current prisoners who aren't so much a danger to citizens as they are fodder for phony law-and-order politics and a booming prison industry. Get the potheads out of jail and force them to take their chances in society with everybody else. Lock up the people who are likely to injure or rob other people if they have access to means.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 23, 2012
You will give opportunities to prisoners,jobs and new places to live, which most of people struggle to do for their entire life. so where is the punishment for prisoners?
Morever, like 3rd world country people has poverty and high unemployment rates so how is that possible to give these prisoners job just because they are from advanced countries?
People have greater chance to build a decent life in these advanced countries, however prisoners choose wrong way somehow. And you offer to send them poorer countries to give jobs and new life chance just because they were born in advanced countries?
Where is the justice here?
No offence but the most horrible idea I have ever heard!
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 22, 2012
I wouldn't expect any other country to accept US prisoners, unless it's the nasty ones that terrorism suspects went to under "extraordinary rendition." And that is something the US has no business doing.

Put the destination somewhere in our own country, though (but remote enough that the criminals can't just come back) and congratulations, you've just reinvented the Soviet practice of exiling people to Siberia.

I don't like that either, at least the "just disappearing" part. But if preceded by a fair trial, a sentence of exile to some remote place in Alaska or North Dakota might be a good alternative to prison. Certainly it does away with many of the problems of prison, including the fact that prisoners learn from other prisoners how to be more successful criminals when they get out, and the system prevents them from getting any normal job. An exile to Siberia (or similar) doesn't have those problems; the state finds him an honest job, even if it isn't much fun.
Dec 22, 2012
so bad....i stop reading your blog today..
Dec 22, 2012
When I was in law scholl, I recall the criminal law lecturer saying that we send people to jail for 3 reasons: revenge, re-education and something else that started with r that meant protecting society from them re-offending. Or maybe it was 3 P's: punishment, prevention, and . . . look, it was a long time ago, OK.

The three purposes of the prison system remain
1. punishment/revenge: prisons meant to be not fun places to spend time. Even in 1st world prisons with clean uncrowded cells, prisoners are denied access to their friends and family, for example.
2. prevention: while in there, they can't repeat offend the theft/assault etc. This leads to questions like why we imprison drug users . . . .
3. re-education: most prisons have programmes to teach offenders a skill so that that they can (potentially) get a paying job when they leave. And unofficial programmes where long term repeat offenders network with first timers and teach them how to better commit crimes.

The simplest implementation, rather than finding some country to take american criminals for money, is banishment. At their third strike, drive them to the border/airport, give them minimal travelling money, send them out and never let them back. You don't care where they go. Career criminals will soon be banished from multiple countries.

You could even have a cut down version of this for shorter sentences. Instead of the state feeding and housing the guilty for x years, tell them they have to leave the court and not return for x years. Major hassle for them to establish themselves in another country, find a job, housing etc, and they are denied the company of their family and friends .

Sounds like punishment and prevention are covered, at least for crimes where the perpetrator has to be in the same place as the victim. This does nothing for re-education, but that often doesn't work anyway.

Dec 22, 2012
@DilBro: Then you are anathema to me and I hate your guts. That's okay though; I don't wish you any harm just because I dislike you.
Dec 22, 2012
Let's be honest, we want the revenge. But why does the revenge have to be expensive? What if we simply jabbed criminals in the eye with a stick? That's practically free!
Dec 22, 2012
I might have been reading too much sci-fi recently, but what about a space colony. It solves the secrecy problem, and I can imagine crime would be easier to control in a small area.
Dec 22, 2012
I might have been reading too much sci-fi recently, but what about a space colony. It solves the secrecy problem, and I can imagine crime would be easier to control in a small area.
Dec 22, 2012
Scott, this idea is disturbing on a number of levels.

First, correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds suspiciously close to the feeling of superiority over everyone else that Americans are infamous for. The repeat offenders are dangerous to keep around your house, so you put them around other people's houses in another country, as if the people's lives there are somehow cheaper to your own.

Secondly, it looks more like a reward than a punishment. One of the points of punishment is making the criminal regret his crime. So you take a criminal, pay him for a foreign trip and give him a job overseas. How does that make him feel bad? In fact some people will feel tempted to commit crimes just for that foreign job. No everyone fears the unknown.

Thirdly, you seem to forget that "distant country" is a medieval concept. You put a man right across the globe today and tomorrow his face will crop up on Facebook. Even if he doesn't post it himself, someone else will, and eventually, all the people back home will know he has been having a great time in Malaysia all this while for raping and murdering a college student.

And finally, I don't care if people hate me for saying this: Yes, I want the criminal to suffer for his crimes, even if that act cannot be undone. If you prefer to call if revenge, so be it. I am all for revenge.
Dec 22, 2012
The British had something like this a few centuries ago. It was called Australia.
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