The following is the 3rd part of an exclusive Impact Lab series called the Twelve Trends of Christmas by Thomas Frey.  Title:  Open Source Penal Colony

In 2005 there were a total of 2,186,230 people incarcerated either in prison or jails.  The US currently has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world with 724 inmates per 100,000 population.  This compares to 131 per 100,000 in England and 59 in Norway.

In 2005 the BBC reported that 60% of the people released from US prisons were rearrested within the following three years.  If that same recedivism rate applies today, that would mean that if all prisoners were released today, that we would be rearresting 1,464,774 of them.  And since nearly all of the inmates will exit the prisons at some point, we have over 1.4 million future criminals poised for release into our communities.  A frightening statistic.

It is easy to conclude that from a rehabilitation standpoint, our prison systems are a miserable failure.

The theory of incarceration centers around the notion that we are better off if people who commit a crime are removed from society. However, the way we deal with these prisoners, the people who cannot get along with the rest of society, is to put lots of them together in a small confined space, deprive them, isolate them, and somehow hope that they will become better people in the process. 

Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, now a prisoner in Colorado’s SuperMax prison describes his facility as being “designed to inflict as much misery and pain as is constitutionally permissible."

Regardless of whether you support or dislike our current system, some key driving forces in society will cause this system to change.

First, we are facing a severe talent and people shortage in the coming years and it will soon make no sense to have human resources “on ice” and costing society when there are other options available.

Second, the rising costs of operating prison systems will cause stress fractures in certain areas of government, which in turn will force a period of experimentation.

Some businesses will look at this as an opportunity to access free or cheap labor, while others will object to the unfair advantage created by using this labor force.  As a result, the most likely compromise will be the creation of non-competitive business operations.

For example, if inmates, either with existing programming skills or trained to work in this field, were given the task of writing code for certain open source projects, the general public would have a license to use the software and no one business would be given an unfair advantage.  At the same time, a consortium of large companies would likely want to fund this type of development operation.

Another example could be the creation of a penal art colony.  Artistic inmates could work on various forms of artwork, which would be sold on the open market.
Whatever revenues were raised from the activities of there would be used in part to pay for their incarceration and in part to support their families.


ABOUT:  Thomas Frey is currently Google’s Top Rated Futurist Speaker.  He serves as the Senior Futurist and Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute.  For more information click here.