Godfrey's Thoughts on "Cryo-Prisons"

One sci-fi trope I've never understood is cryonic jails. I was reminded of this when thinking about some of the weirder or more preposterous scpace craft depicted in film and remembered "Lockout" with Guy Pearce (a thoroughly mediocre, but fun in a cheese 1980s action movie sort of way). The trope is probably better known from the 1993 film "Demolition Man" and basically it goes like this: convicted criminals are cryonically frozen for the duration of their jail sentence. Which makes no sense if you consider the purpose of jails. I practice criminal law for a living, so perhaps this is more annoying to me than to others, but consider ...

The word "penitentiary" comes from Mediaeval Latin penitentiaria (“place of penitence”) -- it's meant to be a place where one is reformed through penance and meditation upon one's transgressions. Certainly this was the original intention when one considers the progenitors of our modern jails, those set up by the Quakers in the 1790s that involved all the inmates being held in cells alone with only the Bible to read. Penance means at the very least a certain level of punishment or discomfort. Letting prisoners sleep through their sentence completely takes away any penance and makes it merely temporary warehousing.

In terms of Lockout featuring a jail in space, this I can accept. You can't get any more secure than that -- it's rather difficult to escape when the jail is surrounded by thousands of kilometers of absolutely nothing. That's even more remote than the Siberian gulags. But letting them sleep through the duration of the sentence takes away the punishment aspect of the sentence because the sentence will be perceived as but a day or two long as far as the crook is concerned. Rehabilitation is similarly out the window for the same reason -- the criminal's asleep so he can't learn anything.

That leaves the only purpose being to separate offenders from the public. Which has certain merit, I suppose, but it not very effectively accomplished by cryonics -- the twenty year old killer is still twenty years old when he's released after a 50 year sentence. If not frozen, he's 70 years old on release and a lot less likely to commit further crimes. And I doubt it would be a any cheaper to keep someone on ice (refrigeration/monitoring systems) than to feed and clothe him for all that time. It just strikes me, overall, as a dumb idea.

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