Hell on Earth: how to imprison a person for 1,000 years

Philosopher Rebecca Roache led a team of scholars at Oxford to think about the future of punishment. Aeon interviewed her about the project.

Roache: "Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?"

One idea: Give prisoners drugs that make them experience a 1,000-year jail sentence in their mind.

Roache: "There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence. Of course, there is a widely held view that any amount of tinkering with a person’s brain is unacceptably invasive. But you might not need to interfere with the brain directly."

What about an eternal prison sentence, in other words, a Hell on Earth? Who would deserve such a sentence?

Roache: "Suppose there was some physics experiment that stood a decent chance of generating a black hole that could destroy the planet and all future generations. If someone deliberately set up an experiment like that, I could see that being the kind of supercrime that would justify an eternal sentence."

Hell on earth

(Image: Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from timpearcelosgatos's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. In its belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.

  2. This might be a good idea if punishing criminals actually did any good. Which it doesn't, as can be seen from the recidivism rates. How about a drug to lift entire communities out of poverty and ignorance?

  3. What about an eternal prison sentence, in other words, a Hell on Earth?

    Infinite punishment for finite crime? Sounds immoral to me.

  4. Hey, here's a bright idea:

    If you can simulate 1,000 years of hell for bad people, it should be easy to feed in 12 years of memories a happy, enriched childhood to kids so they don't end up as monsters in the first place.

  5. This is disgusting. I don't care what crime anyone commits. I don't want them to suffer at all. There is no evidence that stronger punishments deter criminals from their behavior, so this won't deter anyone. All it does is torture someone. With how badly regular prison's effect mental health, I don't want to imagine what this would do to someone.

    In my ideal world, criminals are not punished, but educated, and kept from hurting others as needed.

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