Whay aren't penal colonies the norm?

Borderline GQ / GD question.

In concept it seems places like Devil’s Island provide an ideal compromise between protecting the safety of the citizenry from nonconformists and providing something other than a high-maintenance cage for people who just have a different idea of their right to pursue their own desires. The reality, I understand, was fairly abusive, but has the concept been wholly abandoned? Are there examples of long-running, humane colonies (The US and Australia don’t strictly count) that have provided a reasonably successful alternative to jail cells??

What’s keeping us from placing violent offenders in a self-governing or anarchic “empty quarter” and letting them decide how best to carry on? Trade between The Quarter and the outside world would be encouraged, and minimal resources go in (apart from copious amounts of manpower) that aren’t properly bartered. And it goes without saying that even the minimum food and shelter isn’t provided to those who’d rather not contribute in some way.

If we put a camera crew in there with them, we could make a sequel to No Escape for free.

One could argue that Afganastan under the Taliban, Iraq under Sadam and present day North Korea are examples of what you would get. Absolute power would be maintained by a few and the vast majority would live in terror. Not much different than a normal prision hiearchy really, just on a grander scale.

It’s currently assumed that even prisoners deserve to eat and have their health taken care of, and have some measure of protection against violence from other inmates. Even in cases of the death penalty, we use a method that is fast, effective, and relatively humane. Society has deemed that even convicted criminals about to die have rights. This solution would only work for those that would currently be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole. If society as a whole is willing to negate the rights of such convicted criminals, it could work, but not until then.

Penal colonies don’t provide jobs the way prisons do.

If your “empty quarter” isn’t an island, how do we keep them from crossing the borders?

I asked that question in GD a few years ago.

I think what we have just grew over time. Alcatraz might be the closest current comparison. The available of enough suitable areas is one major concern. Our culture would consider it “cruel and unusual” punishment. It goes against our principle of keeping prisoners close enough to home for relatives to visit. Even with a penal colony left on its own, you’d still have to make sure people did not figure out how to escape. You can bet they’d be sailing the high seas in rafts to get somewhere. The shear volume of customers makes such a thing daunting.

Still, I like the concept and hold out for it for those with serious enough crimes. My ideal penal colony would have a very short life expectancy for visitors. The high turnover would help with handling the high volume.

Penal colonies were a byproduct of colonialism. Back then, big countries could ship their criminals off to faraway places. Now those faraway places are all independent and don’t want to take in criminals. It’s a simple as that.

Free Luna!

As I’ve said before; Kerguelen Islands.

Sufficiently remote and unpopulated. Large enough, and with at least some edible plants and feral animals.

Given the rise of private, for profit prisons in the US, I’d say your claim isn’t absolutely true. Some towns in the US have welcomed these prisons for the money they bring in.

I agree, it’s hard to imagine any first world country taking in our prisoners for any amount of money. OTOH, a penal colony in Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, or Guyana might be seen as a welcome source of jobs and foreign exchange.

Given the cost advantages over the astronomical price tag of holding someone in a US prison, overseas prisons might allow us to put away all the bad guys who need to be put away, instead of releasing them after a few years because we run out of space.

Penal colonies weren’t just supposed to be punishment for the transportees, the colonies were supposed to provide some sort of benefit for the home country.

If the purpose is just to kill off undesirables, why not just put a bullet in their brains? Cheaper, easier, and more humane.

Because a bullet to the brain is irreversible, and excessive punishment for crimes like robbery, rape, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Life without parole in an overseas exile prison? Perfect punishment for any ulcerated ass crack who puts a gun to the head of a convenience store clerk in order to fund his lust for brain candy.

Why exactly don’t they count? Too humane?

Because that is an utter abandonment of any hope of rehabilitation. We, as the society that postures as being better than they are, must perforce treat them as better than they “treated” us (or rather those individuals amongst us that they chose to mistreat) or we abandon any moral authority to do so, and just become more powerful thugs than they are.

We didn’t put up with Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, why would we put up with another entire nation that we ourselves set up as a training ground for criminality and sociopathy? The purpose of our justice system is 1/ to protect ourselves from these types for a period and 2/ to make them better so as to participate in general society again. If we abandon that latter half of the equation then we abnegate our moral superiority and are merely asserting that “we are right because we happen to be mightier than you at the moment”, and so can have no surprise when they exert what power they have when they have it.

Such a nation may for all you know become united under some psychopathic leader and due to unity of purpose become a greater threat than the individuals of it would have been were they kept in the US (or wherever). IOW, be careful of what you wish for: you may get it.

I was responding to someone who thought life expectancy in the penal colony should be as short as possible, so we could keep shipping dirtbags over there.

If we’re sending people to the colony knowing they’re going very likely to die in short order from disease, starvation, exposure, and violence, then that’s an irreversible sentence, right?

What is the point of the penal colony? Is it because our current prisons are too soft and comfortable, and we need to make things harder on the convicts because we hope they die? If we send them away to die, that conflicts with your notion that summary execution is too severe and irreversible, no?

It seems to me that the prison colony serves the exact same purpose as a regular prison. Prison is a place to segregate dangerous people from society, so they can’t harm us. It is unpleasant, so it serves as a deterrent to potential criminals who don’t want to go there. It is a place where prisoners can be rehabilitated so when they get out they can contribute to society. Oh, and it could be an economic purpose–the prisoners are forced to work at slave labor.

So how does a penal colony fit these purposes better than a regular prison? Note that there are several different concepts being conflated here. One is simply a prison located overseas, like Devil’s Island in Papillion. Another is a slave-labor camp, like the Soviet Gulags. Another is simply exile, like colonists transported to Australia. Another is to dump people in a place that cannot sustain life, and they perish in short order.

For exile, there’s no place on Earth that will accept American convicts as immigrants. And I can’t see the benefit of an overseas prison. Costs might be lower, but those low costs are achieved by questionable practices. Do we really want to pay the prison guards a dollar a day? In short order corruption would rule the day. Slave-labor gulags–hmmm, somehow not very American, and besides, we’d have to set these gulags up inside America. As for dumping people in a desolate area and leaving them to starve, again, why not just shoot them?

Easy: we define constitutionally that enemies of society have no constitutional rights, and we dump them on an island. But I’m too much a pragmatist to ever be taken seriously.

I was going to bring up Heinlein’s short story ‘Coventry’ but I discovered this thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=375237&highlight=coventry

But why not declare that enemies of society have no rights, and just shoot them?

I guess I don’t understand the idea that dumping them on an island where their lives will be nasty, brutish, and short makes it not our problem, while shooting them makes us the bad guys.

If there was a place where we could send them where they could survive but not bother us, that would be one thing. The problem is that every decent place to live on Planet Earth is already taken. There are desert islands and uninhabited wastelands, but these are places where human beings cannot survive without assistance. Either we have to set aside a decent place for the transportees, and provide them with enough resources that they can build their society, or we’re dumping them in a place where they’ll die quickly.

If they’re that dangerous that we decide killing them is the best solution, then just kill them quickly and humanely.

But was Devil’s Island actually a penal colony (Like Australia) or was it just a big concentration camp prison with a more difficult escape route, a bigger Alcatraz? Who wants to be a live-in guard in central Greenland?

So do you have any wardens and guards, or do you just leave them to their own devices? If so, then the comments about Afghanistan and North Korea (and Coventry) apply. See Lebanon in the 1970’s for what happens when there is no civil order. Only without guns, it would be knives and clubs.

Who goes there? Everyone, or sentences over 2 years? 5? 10? life? Or whatever crime makes the more interesting headlines? So for the 80% of people sentenced to less than the cut-off, you still need normal jails.

Do we send food and shelter there, or just let them starve and freeze in the dark?

It’s bad enough that jokes about “cell-mate bubba” are the norm nowadays, isn’t sending someone to certain rape and death “cruel and unusual punishment”, much as you think they might deserve it? If it should be allowed, why not hire a bunch of sadists and reality TV crew and just show torture-to-the-death on TV. Oh, and rename the country the United States of Taliban.

My thoughts - there are remote-enough locations (Alaska, Mojave) where if the person escapes the resulting trek is difficult and makes recapture easier; but all it took was SF Bay to protect Alcatraz… Regardless, the state still owes the incarcerated enough food and warmth and protection to survive their sentence.