DEBATE: Immortality will change prison sentences?  Execution & Life-behind-Bars.. too sadistic? -

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DEBATE: Immortality will change prison sentences?  Execution & Life-behind-Bars.. too sadistic?

Posted: Sat, March 16, 2013 | By: DEBATE

​When people attain immortality - prison sentences will have to be changed, correct?

Death will become increasingly horrible as our lives lengthen - ending someone’s life 50 years early is terrible, but not as cruel as obliterating an entity that could live forever.

Additionally, putting someone in jail today for the rest of their life - is harsh, of course, because it’s taking away decades of their life. 

But… if the criminal is going to live forever… 

...and courts decide to exclude them from society for thousands of years... 

that’s far too severe - unspeakably cruel..

isn’t it?

Will entirely different penalties need to be created, if the extension of human lifespan alters our value of time?


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I think you raise an incredibly important issue,namely the role of criminal justice in a world where someone can live forever.Sadly,I think there would be greater use of the death penalty and longer prison sentences.
We are a conservative country when it comes to the criminal justice system and unless attitudes change I see,at least initially,longer,harsher punishment for wrongdoers!

By Tom Mooney on Mar 16, 2013 at 9:48am

Punishment is a mechanism of making sure crime is not committed. As an instrument it is morally preferably to inflicting pain, mutilation or death as a deterrent but it is little more effective. A stealth function of incarceration might be as to disallow less procreative freedom - by and large inmates have less opportunities to create offspring.

In the future life extension would throw long-term incarceration, specifically life sentences in turmoil. My expectation is that specifically withholding life extension treatments (as in the novel “Holy Fire) would become a deterrent, even though this would spur on the emergence of black market markets in life extension.

I am personally opposed to punishment, specifically vengeance as a component for deterring crime. I do not believe it works and in many cases I argue it works counter-productive. Prisons destroy lives, careers and vector towards criminal careers and networks. Even worse, in some countries the whole idea of imprisonment has become a cause onto itself, leveraged by dubious political infrastructures to sway voters to willingly part with their tax money (and to get rid of an alleged surplus colored people in society).

We need supply/demand/evolutionary mechanisms to get rid of crime. I am not opposed to asking criminals to “prove to society” they will never commit that crime (or preferably any crime) again. Personally I completely do not trust prisons to do precisely that (or only briefly), and I do not trust politicians that advocate that, I do not trust my tax money wasted on such a project, nor I do not trust a legal system that keeps doing things in this manner. 

By Khannea SunTzu on Mar 16, 2013 at 11:58am

Good points, and I suspect ones that have not been seriously considered yet. 

Rehabilitation is the answer, I agree. At present, not much is being done in that regard.  Some Scandinavian countries seem to be working towards it but it is hardly universally applied even there.  A lot of work will have to be done before it is effective and reliable.  Social attitude will have to be overcome, too.  The desire for vengence is strongly entrenched in the human psyche.

By James Smith on Mar 16, 2013 at 1:12pm

I actually created a video on this very subject about 14 months ago: “Life Extension, Crime, and Criminal Justice”:

Importantly, there would be considerably less crime in a society where indefinite life extension has been achieved. People would have fewer motivations to commit crime, as they would be considerably healthier, happier, and more prosperous. Moreover, they would have more to lose through criminal punishment. They would make plans with a much longer time horizon in mind, and criminal behavior could derail those ambitious plans.

My general view is that criminal punishment would be transformed, especially in the case of capital punishment. Capital punishment might itself be redefined from execution to the simple withholding of life-extension therapies, allowing the unmitigated process of senescence to proceed. This would be effective in allowing appeals and the discovery of evidence of innocence – since a biologically young offender might have a good sixty years in which to make a successful case. I still see the need for that kind of “death penalty” for actual murder, though. Depriving a person of life in a society where indefinite life is possible is no longer a matter of shortening a life by a few decades. Rather, it curtails a potentially unlimited lifespan, full of irreplaceable individual experiences, achievements, and values. Thus, while the troubling aspects of physically violent execution might disappear, the severity with which the offense of murder is perceived would also increase. For some people who might otherwise have been inclined toward crime, this might lead them to reconsider and form internal inhibitions.

As regards imprisonment, being incarcerated for life would be much more severe of a punishment if a person is to live indefinitely – especially if parole is not an option. Perhaps this sort of life imprisonment would be used for offenses that are a degree less egregious than the kinds of offenses that result in the gradual “natural” death penalty that consists of withdrawing rejuvenation treatments. For lesser offenses, though, the focus of the criminal-justice system would shift from punishment to restitution. In a future that is far more prosperous and where advanced medical care is abundant, it would be much easier to fix injuries or restore property to a pre-damaged form. The offender would be asked to pay for the damage (perhaps twice the cost, in accordance with Murray Rothbard’s “two teeth for a tooth” rule of restitution).

My video elaborates on all of these points, for those who are interested in delving into them in greater depth.

By Gennady Stolyarov II on Mar 16, 2013 at 5:42pm

Just to kick us off on an important point raised by James Smith.
We are at a time in neuroscience where we are understanding more and more about the neural basis of why people do ‘bad’ things. I look forward to a time when we can change the brain structure of criminals, perhaps doing deep brain stimulation, or viral gene therapy to ‘fix’ the defective part of criminals brains such that evil will be treated.
Evil will be considered a sickness that can be cured.
However, fixing the problem that caused someone to commit a crime will not absolve them of their responsibility.
I do however look forward to a time when instead of inflicting blame and punishment on those who commit crime, the mindset will be that we feel sorry for them, that they happened to be born with a neurological defect such that they are criminals.
In the future, I seriously think that there will be no crime, because we will know so much about the brain, it will be changed and rendered incapable of crime.

By Simon de Croft on Mar 16, 2013 at 7:16pm

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