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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+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 22, 2012
>Imagine a system in which convicted criminals are secretly relocated to distant countries and given jobs

Uh huh, and we'd happily take in convicted felons from other countries and provide them with jobs. Worst idea ever?
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
The US decided a long time ago it prefers spending extra tax money for revenge instead of less money to fix people. Norway chose the other route and get much better bang for their buck.


Of course, they aren't the same countries and it's possible the strategy wouldn't work in the US but I'm pretty sure what the US is currently doing doesn't work either.
Dec 21, 2012
This is another place where that pesky old Constitution gets in the way of an innovative idea! Too bad that you can't deport a US citizen.

There are other impracticalities to the idea. First, you'd have to find a country where they needed unskilled labor and who has a low unemployment rate. Hmmm. I don't know too many of those. Including ours.

Then, you'd somehow have to get the criminal to actually do the work. Of course, if they preferred work to crime, they'd already be working, unless they live in a place with high unemployment. Like here. Can't ship them to Europe - 25% plus unemployment. Australia might work, except they're already descended from criminals. No offense to anyone in Australia, but hey, it is what it is.

An ex-employee of mine had an idea. He called it "Three strikes and you're dead." It was an alternative to California's "Three strikes" law where people convicted of their third felony are incarcerated for life. His plan was to just humanely kill them instead, thus saving the cost of their care for the rest of their life. I do not endorse his plan. And yes, he wasn't joking.

So I'd have to say your plan is impractical. I guess that's the first time you've proposed something that is unworkable, isn't it? Oh, wait.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
(Standard disclaimers: I don't support hate crimes, etc.)

But what's the big deal about just killing people that do bad things?

(Putting on helmet)

When I think of Darwin, and natural selection, etc... isn't it just natural?

(Putting on my bullet proof vest)

Have we become too sensitive to preserving life?

(getting into the bunker)

We're coming up to 8 billion people, and overpopulating the planet. Statistically speaking - does it matter?

(bracing for impact)

Wouldn't it be a much more humane solution to just kill the rapists and murderers?

(but what if we kill an innocent)

Law of big numbers... does it matter? Aren't we better off - even if we make a few mistakes??

(What if you were the mistake?)

That's why I'm wearing all this gear :-)
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
"How much is revenge worth to you?"

Air isn't as important to me as revenge.
Dec 21, 2012
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?
Dec 21, 2012
This is a good chance to also test your floating city idea. In fact, it would allow us to place the prison in maximum isolation, perhaps high in the Arctic Sea. Old oil tankers could be chained together and converted into dorms and factories. The size of the tankers would give the freedom to make all the furniture, doors and amenities giant-sized. The purpose of this would be to make the prisoners feel smaller, in order to psychologically beat them down.

Then, to test another of your ideas, the manager of the factory could be a giant robot, painted red. Maybe a "Mrs." giant robot also, to pound the fact into the prisoners' heads that they'll never again have a wife.

The prisoners would be forced to make wooden toys -- no scratch that, this is the 21st century. They'd drill for oil in the Arctic Sea, convert that to spools of plastic and then be forced to keep vast banks of 3D printers running. Legos, Fischer-Price stuff, board games and other plastic stuff would be produced.

One good side benefit is kids would never again be put in a position to think "They lied about Santa, so maybe they're lying about Jesus, too. I might as well follow a life of crime."

Dec 21, 2012
1) If we are to believe sci-fi movies, creating a country (or city, or planet, or whatever) full of convicts would eventually result in criminals aquiring some kind of weapons and creating an army, or kidnapping a president, or something like that.
2) Getting a job in some third-world country (probably low paid, as they're in a poor country, and a foreigner, and a criminal - whou would like to hire them?) would not make anyone a better person
3) This system means relocating crimanls permanently. Isolating them from their families and friends. Otherwise, how could we maintain secrecy? Seems a bit far-fetched for minor crimes, and if we did it only to big offenders - some country just gets a bunch of really dangerous people roaming free.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
Haven't read the comments, so that means this is probably something people have already said, but no, for a lot of people, pretend jail still sucks. Most convicts care more about getting back to their families and friends and letting them know they're alright than they do about having a chance to start a new life. It takes a special type of psycho to truly be able to cut oneself off from everyone they ever cared about. If my brother gets sent to pretend jail and I never hear from him again, that's much worse than actual jail, even if I find out he's actually started a new life in some third world country. I'd be glad to know he's alive, but I want him back in my life. Real jail leaves that possibility open. I'd rather be sent to actual jail and still get to see my family during occasional visits and know I'll eventually get to be with them again when I'm out than be forced to start over knowing I can never contact them again.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
When you come back as Pip's mysterious benefactor, it sort of ruins the illusion of the penal colony being a bad place to live.
Dec 21, 2012
The concept itself makes no sense. First, you didn't put parameters on who gets shipped off. It wouldn't be cheaper to relocate people in for a few hours (think Lindsey Lohan) to a few months. And you wouldn't want to dump pedophiles, rapists and serial killers on an unsuspecting population in another country. And if a country is poor enough to take prisoners, they probably don't have a lot of open jobs for these felons, which means we'd still have to support them. And as others have mentioned, they'll contact people here in no time. So unless you set up a floating penal island or start colonies on Antartica, I don't see this working.

But as for your basic question, I'd like at least some vengence, and shipping them to Antartica could work both economically and on the vengence front.
Dec 21, 2012
If it worked I would have no problem with it. But I see issues:
1) With the internet, the criminal would contact his family and friends within a day. Internet cafe's are common in 3rd world countries.
2) How do you prevent the criminal from buying a plane ticket home? If you have a way to prevent that, then you do have a punishment involved.
3) The criminal could continue commit crimes, depending on their skills and temperament.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
I love it. I've been saying for a while that violent offenders should simply have their citizenship revoked and be dropped off on the coast of Somalia or somewhere similar. Theoretically that would cost even less and there's no real way the target country could stop us from doing it. There's even a substantial possibility those people will eventually repeat the Australian model and the country and criminals would end up better off than they are now. Almost anything is more humane and less costly than incarceration.
Dec 21, 2012
I like the idea just to reduce costs. I'm not sure it'll be much of a deterrent. You're right that the unknown is scary, but for those of us who have never been there, jail is already unknown and scary.

I think the idea of using jail as rehabilitation is pure bunk, at least the way we use jails today. The real purposes are for punishment (revenge) and to remove bad elements from society.

By the way, revenge could be worth a lot to me, depending on the crime. I'm not sure why revenge gets such a bad rap, but I'm all for it.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
This thought experiment sounds oddly similar to the current state of our military?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
Jail cost taxpayers 50-100 dollars, per day, per inmate. It's incredibly expensive, yet pointless. Jail is VERY boring; it's mostly a lot of sitting around. There's very little mental stimulation, almost zero reform and rehabilitation. Getting people established in new places, with new skills and the incentive to perform those skills seems to be a change in the right direction, but How long of a jail sentence would be required for somebody to be shipped away? I'm looking at spending the first week of next year in jail, but a week-long sentence doesn't seem to warrant sending me to New-Australia.
Dec 21, 2012
Some time ago, Scott, you stated that you had been held up at gunpoint and had your apartment robbed some number of times. I imagine you've gotten over it since but am curious; how much did you want revenge at the time?
Dec 21, 2012
And if only there were a way to keep these exiled people from returning. I know! Let's build a wall. Walls always work!
Dec 21, 2012
I like the idea, but specifically answering the revenge question, I would much rather have lower crime than get revenge. Your thought experiment actually handles the revenge problem, because if I were the type of person who really WANTS revenge, then I can imagine the most excruciating punishment imaginable being perpetrated on the perpetrator, rather than the current batch of "country club" jails for some of our white collar criminals.
The interesting/difficult part would be making sure they didn't come back. When Australia and Georgia were England's penal dumping grounds, it took a lot of work and resources to return, although it was still possible. Now our global village makes return to our original stomping grounds much easier.
How important is it that they not return? Depends on if they continue to break the law. My least favorite stories in the paper are when I read about someone who has managed to evade the law for twenty or more years, being a good upright citizen for that whole time, and because of some oddity, they get caught and put in jail. If the goal is a better society, I don't see how that serves.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2012
Just ask the Arabs and Israelis how much revenge is worth.
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