Sunday, January 13, 2008

prisoners to be "chipped like dogs"

according to the independent (via talkleft), the british ministry of justice is "planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails."

the proposal is purportedly motivated by prison overcrowding, as "the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today." even at 80k, however, the incarceration rate in england and wales of 148 per 100,000 is only one-fifth the united states rate of 750 per 100,000. given the costs of incarceration and recent technological advances, we'll surely see more of this technology in the states as well.

while many of us recoil at the idea of implanting people with tracking devices, i'd be first in line for such a device at my own sentencing hearing. think about it: would you rather do six months in the county jail or wear a temporary implant that allows you to go about your business? what about an implant versus a year in a maximum-security state penitentiary?

in fact, i'd even prefer a temporary implant to a bulky ankle bracelet or other external electronic monitoring device. in social interactions, one would be far less stigmatized while wearing an implant -- in goffman's terms, this represents a big move from discredited to discreditable status. temporary is the key qualifier here, of course, with the assumption that any such device would be fully removed at the conclusion of one's sentence.

i'm not advocating implants, but any discussion of their use should take into account the interests and the grim alternatives faced by the men and women who would be wearing them. i can imagine a slippery policy slope in which the practice is first applied to volunteers from heavily stigmatized groups and then generalized outward. if i'm correct, that means high-risk sex offenders will be the first to wear such implants. in the end, however, i suspect we'll all be wearing 'em.

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