Thomas Frey’s blog ›

When Prisons Become Illegal

Posted on January 4, 2013

The first time I watched Star Trek and heard Captain Kirk utter the phrase – “Set your phasers to stun!” – it occurred to me that these future weapons had a number of different settings.

While most people assumed a simple two-position switch with only “kill” or “stun” options, I found myself dwelling on the possibilities of an eight or ten-position switch and wondering what the other options might be. Perhaps they would include stun 1 (with pain), stun 2 (without pain), giggle (make them laugh uncontrollably), amnesia (forget what they’re doing), slo-mo (causing them to move in slow motion), suicide (making them take their own life), seizure (all muscles fire at once), overwhelming guilt (immobilized by guilt and self loathing), or overwhelming pity (suddenly they become your friend).

These may sound silly, but since today’s weapons only have one setting, we have a hard time imagining a technology with more choices.

Similarly, when people show up in court, judges only tend to have one setting for justice – incarceration. With our existing infrastructure built up around jails and prisons, we have a justice system that has a hard time considering other options.

With incarceration rates in the U.S. now reaching epidemic levels, I would like to take you through the exercise of envisioning a world where prisons are no longer an option. If judges no longer had ‘incarceration’ as a setting on their gavel of justice, what kind of world would we live in? Here are a few thoughts.

Read more: When Prisons Become Illegal | World Future Society.

Home           Top of page