Saturday, June 13, 2009


Andrew D Atkin

A cancer cell doesn't choose to be what it is - it just is. So there's no point in blaming or hating it. But the fact remains it must be cut out of the body.


It is impossible to isolate a prison concept like what I am proposing from ideology, so I will explain my perspective as follows.

The following represents the function of prisons, as I understand it:


-Public protection (via isolation as well as deterrent)

-Rehabilitation (if possible)

-Revenge (if that is what a given society wants)

I believe that the most critical function of prisons is deterrent and public protection, in particular with respect to violent offenders. In turn I believe that the public should not be expected to take a risky second chance with someone who has already demonstrated that they are capable of the worst. I believe that violent offenders should be permanently isolated from society until we can know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that they will not re-offend.

None of us chooses our genes or our environment, so you could always find excuses for violent offenders if you looked hard enough. I myself believe that all guilty criminals are themselves victims. Regardless, I consider the issues of blame and revenge to be basically beside the point. Our primary concern should be to find a practical method of permanently isolating dangerous people from our society. It does not matter how or why someone became dangerous, public protection should always be the first consideration.

From what I understand it costs about $80,000 pa to maintain a single prisoner in a conventional prison. I would like to suggest how that cost could be dramatically reduced to maybe $5,000 per person or even less.

I know this singular objective may appear heartless on the face of it, but we should remember that the huge monies spent maintaining violent offenders could have otherwise been spent on life-saving operations and other humanly critical options i.e. it is not "only money" - money is extremely important.

Death penalty:

I personally do not support the death penalty. Not only because it does not seem to have any relevant deterrent value (making it essentially worthless in terms of material social value) but because, to myself at least, it is inhumane. And also because a death sentence is totally irreversible, leaving us with a nightmare scenario should it be discovered that an erroneous conviction had occurred (our courts are not perfect!).

My model:

The following is my basic model for an economical and humane system of indefinitely imprisonment. In short, I believe we should permanently isolate violent offenders from society by depositing them over a large externally-guarded area (maybe an island) where they can live possibly the remainder of their lives in a mostly self-sufficient and therefore tax-payer friendly way.

--Each prisoner should be equipped with a hut that is like a small modified caravan. The hut should have a wood-burner for cooking and heating. Each cabin should also have a small solar-battery powered laptop computer with built-in TV /telephone /video-intercom /Internet functionality that they use freely. Excessive boredom could lead to dangerous disruptions?

--Groups of prisoners should be well dispersed on the island (to avoid social disruptions) and each unit should be very small - probably no more than about 3-4 persons in size. Each group can share common equipment for things that are only occasionally used. Groups should be categorised into common personality types.

--Prisoners should be given basic supplies such as overalls, cleaning materials, grains, cereals, tinned meat etc. They can grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables, and make their own meals. Supplies can be deposited by helicopter if necessary.

Note: I doubt it would be a concern if they grew and consumed their own marijuana, considering this drug appears to sedate and there are no children involved.

--Though the prison should be well guarded externally, it should not be internally policed or internally managed. This would otherwise be very expensive and probably excessively dangerous for police. I believe that police protection can be a privilege that a serious offender loses - they would have to take care of themselves on that level.

--Medical attention should be basic, unless a truly serious condition in identified. Prisoners can communicate with health professionals online.

Note: The physical lifestyle of the prisoners within this system should be very healthy. It will not tend to provoke health problems.

--Family and friends of convicts could organise to visit inmates, but at their own risk and cost (I don't believe their problem here should be societies expense). The Internet would be very useful here.

--The external boundary of the prison should be guarded with weaponry, supported by a ~6m wire fence of which acts as an indicative boundary (no massively expensive concrete wall).

It should be explained to prisoners that an attempt to jump the fence and leave the prison is suicide. I know that sounds ruthless, but if prisoners understand that death is the inevitable consequence of an attempted escape, then they will not try to escape in the first place - that is, unless they literally choose that as a method of suicide (and if not by a firearm, then they would surely choose another method of suicide, just as they do in a conventional prison). An armed boundary is the only practical way to secure a geographically large penal colony (example).

Weaponry supporting the external boundary can be guided and activated by remote control - this can greatly reduce the cost of policing the boundary. In fact there are now visual computer programmes that can automatically identify changes in the perceived field (over a programmed area) to alert a guard. This means that only one or two online guards may be necessary to effectively police the entire colony. UAV's (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are an efficient complimentary option too. Direct electronic tagging and monitoring of prisoners could also be considered (maybe even using deeply implanted radio tags). Cavity-detecting ground-sonar equipment may also be necessary to check for prisoners trying to tunnel to escape.


With its very low operating cost this system gives us the practical power to permanently isolate dangerous offenders, making New Zealand society safer, wealthier, and therefore more attractive to live in. I believe my model is also reasonably humane compared to a conventional 'concrete box' prison.

With its efficiency, it also gives us the option of rounding-up repeat offenders within our society today of whom, arguably, never should have been released in the first place.

A good reason to study this possibility is that there are no major risks associated with it. It would be very easy to do a small-scale experiment to see how it works out (maybe 100 prisoners?). Of course my suggested model is open to development and research.


Addition: 17-10-11:

Here is an interesting example closely related to what I am talking about. However, my own focus with an eco-prison is not so much rehabilitation (I know you can't reverse a shocking childhood or the condition of psychopathy), but the efficient and indefinite social isolation of dangerous people.

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