Tag Archives: penal colonies

How life would look like in a Penal Colony

Previously we have argued in favour of sending dangerous criminals to penal colonies, where the criminals have to stay but are further free to do what they want. In this post we have a closer look on what life would look like there.

First the colony itself has to be designed. A small space habitat as the Stanford torus designed for about 10,000 people, seems to be suitable to serve as a penal colony. There will be some non-convict staff, but since the convicts are not supposed to be under 24/7 supervision as in normal prisons, the number of guards can be kept low. It suffices to control the entrée and exit gates of the colony, in order to prevent escape.

Most staff would consist of medical and paramedic personal and probation officers. But the non-convict stuff should be no more than 25% of the total number of residents. Instead most of the services should be provided by the convicts themselves. For instance some convicts could get a barber’s license and provide hair cuts to other criminals, hence there will be no need for hiring non-convict barbers.

A part of the colony will be reserved for agriculture, and plots of agricultural land will be given to some convicts for the purpose of growing food for the colony’s residents. This will reduce the need of importing food, and hence saves public funds. Agricultural surpluses will be exported in order to cover the expenses of the colony.

Other convicts will be employed to run the shops in the colony, or in the waste management department. But importantly all employment of convicts is done voluntarily, because forced labour is generally less productive. However, taking up some employment will increase the likelihood of being eligible for parole.

Besides employment the convicts will need accommodation. Our suggestion is to house them in simple residential containers, which could look like this one. And here we have a picture of how the interior might look like. Though the floor plan of such container has some similarities with a prison cell, the main difference is that in this case the convicts are not locked op in their containers and are allowed to leave it at any time. Since the convicts are supposed to prepare their own meals, each container will have a cooking unit.

For those who think this treatment is “soft”, recall that everyone sentenced to penal transportation has to stay in the colony for at least fifteen years, during which they are isolated from their friends and family (given the remote location of the penal colony, visits are almost out of the question). And a person condemned to this penalty, has to live among people who have proven to be dangerous criminals. Further parole is not guaranteed, but is at the full discretion of the government.

Penal transportation

Some criminals pose such a danger for society, that they need to be removed from society. By doing this citizens are protected from future crimes from said criminals. Such “punishments” are meant to deter or to rehabilitate criminals, the sole purpose of such treatment is incapacitation.

Nowadays prison sentences are often used to incapacitate dangerous criminals. In this post we will defend the “reintroduction” of the ancient penalty of penal transportation. First we will define penal transportation. Then we will analyse what kind of crimes should be punished by penal transportation. Thereafter we will discuss the practical aspects of this penalty.

What is penal transportation and what is the difference with prison? Penal transportation is the compulsory sending of people to a penal colony as punishment for a crime. Prison is any building used to lock people up as a punishment. In the case of penal transportation, the primary restriction is that the convicts remain in the colony. Further restrictions might be imposed upon them, but this not a prerequisite.

In our model the convicts are basically free to do whatever they want, except leaving the colony. Only communication with the outside world will be restricted, not to punish the convicts, but to protect civilized society from them.

This is a great difference with prison, where people are locked up in a small room for a large part of they day. We believe that long prison sentences are a kind of psychological torture, which only make people more dangerous than less.

Since incapacitation is the primary purpose of penal transportation, rather than rehabilitation, we should restrict this penalty to the really dangerous criminals, those who are likely to commit violent crimes again. Further this suggests that this penalty should be of indefinite duration. Under Napoleon’s Code Penal transportation was basically a life sentence, whilst under British law transportation was for time (although after completion this term, one had to pay for his own return).

An indefinite sentence means that the duration of the sentence is not predefined. In practise the actual time served depends on the prisoner’s own conduct. This allows the periodic re-evaluation of one’s sentence. Those criminals who remain a serious threat to society might remain in the penal colony for the remainder of their lives. A minimum term to be served of fifteen years, is in our opinion reasonable.

Peter Moskos suggests that pedophiles, psychopathic killers and terrorists should be locked up for life. We would add (serial) rapists and violent repeat offenders to his list.  These are the types of criminals for whom we believe, penal transportation is appropriate.

The idea of a penal colony is to relocate criminals to a remote place, in order to isolate them from society. The remoteness of the penal colony serves a protection measure in case a convict would escape from the colony. The greater the distance between the colony and society, the more difficult it will be for the fugitive to return to the country.

Any space habitat can serve as a penal colony, no one can escape with out a space ship. The suicidal nature of escaping of a space based penal colony will refrain convicts from attempting escape. However, some might manage to escape by stealing or hiding in visiting space ships. In that case long distances will also mean long travel time, and this will allow authorities to recapture the escapees before their effective return.

What should deportees do in such a space penal colony? Rather than to lock those convicts up in a small cell, they will be encouraged to perform labour. But unlike traditional labour camps, employment will and should be voluntary. However, taking up a job would increase the convict’s prospects of an early release. Besides employment, the prisoners will receive opportunities for education.

What kind of work will those convicts do? First, they have to be fed. Hence farming would be a major source of employment in penal colonies, as would be the processing of agricultural products. Mining would be another possibility, especially if these penal colonies are located in the Asteroid belt. But also some of the supervising of the prisoners could be done by convicts. Of course, the higher levels of supervision will be carried out by non-convicts. But convicts with demonstrated good behaviour could be rewarded with lower level supervision tasks.