Gamifying Prison Misses the Mark

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Well-intentioned, the tech world’s obsession with efficiency is more likely to hurt than help when it comes to incarceration, author Evgeny Morozov says in a recent New York Times editorial. The op-ed is a response to a report, “Beyond the Bars,” released by Deloitte, in which the company’s management consultants imagined a world where prisoners no longer spend time behind bars but instead, with the help of smartphone technology, are incarcerated at home under constant surveillance.

In this imagined world, incarceration is “gamified.” That’s a Silicon Valley idea in which real life actions are rewarded with points and prizes. (Think “CineMode”, in which app-users are rewarded with discounts for not checking their phones during movies.) In this case, those incarcerated are awarded points for things like keeping curfew or staying within confined zones. When they accrue enough points, they earn prizes that come in the form of extra freedoms.

Morozov argues that keeping prisoners at home while incentivizing good behavior probably sounds enticing to those looking to lower the cost of growing prisons but, “that smartphones allow us to imprison twice the number of people at half the cost is the kind of cutting-edge innovation that only management consultants and tech entrepreneurs would be excited about.”

The Valley’s drive for efficiency becomes a dilemma, says Morozov.

In the quest to make prison more cost-efficient, Deloitte’s plan distracts from the real problem, which is not that prisons are financially hard to maintain, but that mass incarceration is making them more expensive.

Read the full article at New York Times.

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