Crime is a fact of life in any civilization (well, almost), be it a wretched hive of scum and villainy or the upstanding Federation. And where there’s crime, there’s laws preventing it and punishments for breaking those laws. But with all this futuristic technology at our disposal, surely we can come up with something a little more interesting than steel bars and heavy fines, right? So here are 4 ways to deal with the convicts of the future, ensuring that they serve out their time… although whether these forms of sci-fi punishment are actually worse than rotting in a jail cell today is up for debate.
We’ve already been through some of the common dangers of cryogenic freezing, but hey, these are criminals, so they should’ve thought of that before breaking the law. From an economic perspective, cryoprisons can be pretty appealing–just freeze the criminal and stash him away in some warehouse for the next 10 or 15 or 20 years. No food, water, or medical expenses, and employing only a handful of technicians to make sure nothing goes wrong. Jailbreaks, at least from the inside, are all but impossible.
On the other hand, most cryo-freezing tech renders the patient unconscious for the duration of his time frozen, so it’s not as if our outlaw will remember his time in the icy hole. One day he’ll be unfrozen, many years into the future, and in as good health as the day he was put on ice. Is a free trip to the future really that bad of a punishment? I mean, sure, all his friends and loved ones will have moved on or died, and he’ll forever be a fish out of water having missed so many major events, but people occasionally wake up from comas and get on with their lives today. Will he really have reformed at all, even if you hire him as a drug enforcer? I doubt it.
3. Memory Implants
So if spending a lot of time out of commission without the ability to think about what you’ve done isn’t a great punishment, maybe we can go the opposite direction. What if we instead give our prisoner-to-be the memories of a long time in jail? From his perspective, he’ll have been through a long and awful prison sentence, but to everyone else his reform and punishment will have taken place instantly. Instead of being a drain on society, having to be fed and cared for while in prison, he can immediately go back to being a productive member. This is also an extremely versatile form of punishment; you can implant any memories you like, tailoring them to the particular individual or his crime. Some worlds implant the victim’s memories, while others have stock imprisonment scenarios they like to hand out with some particularly traumatic bits sprinkled through.
Although, if you do that, you can kiss that “productive member of society” goodbye; as extreme as some of these memory implantations are, you’re more likely to end up with a barely functioning, PTSD-flashback suffering mess. If all you care about is hurting the perpetrator as much as he harmed his victims, it’s effective, but you’d have to have a pretty vindictive civilization to think this was the best course of action.
2. Penal Colony
But hey, we don’t really have to invent something totally new, right? One punishment in the Colonial period was to send prisoners out of the country and force them to help build a new colony from the ground up–just ask Australia. Now, we just send them offworld and do the same thing! Depending on your access to FTL Travel, this could be a really valuable way of expanding to other worlds, since generations will pass, just like in Australia. But even if you can get there in days instead of decades, frontier life isn’t necessarily easy. If the planet needs terraforming, it’ll be a long and arduous process. The only things on a colony world will be what you bring with you, so whether they were druggies, murderers, or thieves, they won’t be able to commit any of those crimes in their new home.
But there are plenty of people who haven’t committed any crimes who’d be more than willing to take on the challenge of taming an unknown frontier, too, and they might take offense to you offering up a whole planet to criminals. Sure, there are plenty of planets in the galaxy, but if you see the opportunity as a gift instead of a punishment, that won’t mean much. After all, who’ll be there to hold them accountable and make sure they haven’t simply started a hell-hole of a colony, overrun with anarchy when that prison riot turns into a full-blown rebellion? And a colony is going to need more than just men, which introduces a whole lot of other, new problems in your unisex prison planet.
1. Time Erasure
The Romans had a practice called “Damnatio Memoriae“–a punishment reserved only for traitors and the worst of the worst, in which a person had even the memory of their existence destroyed. It usually involved a lot of destroying records and statues and was generally very difficult to pull off, but it was so effective that, to this day, we can’t really say for sure whether it was ever actually performed (since the whole idea would mean there’s no evidence to prove you did it).
But hey, why stop with their memory? With the tech at our disposal, we don’t just have to forget they existed–we can go back in time and remove them from existence manually. This is way better than just erasing the memory of them, because by doing this, we’ll have actually prevented the horrible crime that made them deserving of Damnatio Memoriae in the first place. Of course, you really need to know what you’re doing before attempting such an erasure; time travel is a dangerous thing, and it didn’t work so well for the Krenim, or even the Time Lords, and no one knows more about time than them. It’s right there in the name.
So there we have it–four means of sci-fi punishment you have at your disposal. Any favorite means of dealing with the baddies up there, or any that I forgot? You can let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. I’ll be in Durham for Illogicon on January 13-15, so if you’re available, stop by and say hi! I’ll be handing out bookmarks and signing copies of The Arcology and Eidolon all weekend. Later this month, I’ll also be speaking at our rescheduled Indie Author Day down in Wilmington, on January 28th.
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