What will a radical increase in life expectancy mean for prison sentences?


British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a 100 year prison sentence for murderers in the UK. It is the kind of sentence that has long been popular in the US where serious offenders sometimes get multiple back-to-back life sentences. No one really expects a convict to serve 100 or more years in prison. It is meant to say that the person, in question, will die in prison and it is meant to be a deterrent to other would be criminals.

What if things changed though? What if, as Ray Kurzweil and his contemporaries suggest, life expectancy begins to expand rapidly? What if people begin living for hundreds of years? What if we actually overcome death altogether?

A rapid and dramatic increase in life expectancy is becoming increasingly likely and it would create a number of moral dilemmas. Most countries, even countries that support the death penalty, would consider it immoral to allow a prisoner to die by denying them medical care, but if medical care is provided Cameron's murderers could easily see the end of a 100 year sentence.

In the UK it costs £40,000 to keep a person in prison. Without even adjusting for inflation, are Brits going to willing to pay £4,000,000 for a person to serve out their 100 year sentence?

Assuming that they are willing to pay what are you going to do with a person who has been in prison for 100 years once they are done? 100 years ago, in 1914, indoor plumbing wasn't standard and electricity and motor cars were still luxury items in many places. Imagine taking someone from that world and releasing them into this one. What possible kind of life could they lead?

What's more, if some of Kurzweil's more futuristic predictions come true, by 2045 we will be backing up our minds digitally and by 2090 we will be able to download them into new, probably cyborg, bodies. If a prisoner dies are we going to download a backup and make them finish their sentence? Are we going to download a copy and release them? Are we going to prevent them from being uploaded and downloaded at all and if we do, isn't that a death sentence?

None of this is important to decide right now but, as we head into an age that could well make the late 20th century look like the stone age it is time to start thinking about the answers to some new questions.

Also, just for fun, here's this:
A mean-spirited, abusive hypochondriac sells his soul to the Devil (appearing as a rotund rogue who calls himself "Cadwallader" here, as he likes the way the name rolls off his tongue) in exchange for immortality, adding enough conditions to keep him out of Satan's clutches forever. He is puzzled when the Evil One doesn't put up much of a fight, only stipulating an escape clause which allows the man to die if he so wishes, but doesn't worry too much about it.

He uses his newfound invulnerability to collect insurance money and cheap thrills by hurling himself into life-threatening accidents. Soon growing bored with this game, he confesses to the murder of his wife (who actually accidentally fell off the roof of their apartment building trying to stop him from jumping), hoping to experience the electric chair. However, his lawyer is too good and instead, he is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

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