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)
Today, President Obama met with Americans who have received commutations on prison sentences during his presidency, and under previous administrations. Today, Obama commuted the sentences of 61 more people who were convicted of federal drug and firearm crimes. More than than a third of them were serving life in prison.
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