How would criminal punishments be affected if humans attain indefinite life? I was recently invited to comment on this subject in an Immortal Life debate thread.
I actually created a video on this very subject in January 2012: “Life Extension, Crime, and Criminal Justice”.
Importantly, there would be considerably less crime in a society where indefinite life extension has been achieved. People would have fewer motivations to commit crime, as they would be considerably healthier, happier, and more prosperous. Moreover, they would have more to lose through criminal punishment. They would make plans with a much longer time horizon in mind, and criminal behavior could derail those ambitious plans.
My general view is that criminal punishment would be transformed, especially in the case of capital punishment. Capital punishment might itself be redefined from execution to the simple withholding of life-extension therapies, allowing the unmitigated process of senescence to proceed. This would be effective in allowing appeals and the discovery of evidence of innocence – since a biologically young offender might have a good sixty years in which to make a successful case. I still see the need for that kind of “death penalty” for actual murder, though. Depriving a person of life in a society where indefinite life is possible is no longer a matter of shortening a life by a few decades. Rather, it curtails a potentially unlimited lifespan, full of irreplaceable individual experiences, achievements, and values. Thus, while the troubling aspects of physically violent execution might disappear, the severity with which the offense of murder is perceived would also increase. For some people who might otherwise have been inclined toward crime, this might lead them to reconsider and form internal inhibitions.
As regards imprisonment, being incarcerated for life would be much more severe of a punishment if a person is to live indefinitely – especially if parole is not an option. Perhaps this sort of life imprisonment would be used for offenses that are a degree less egregious than the kinds of offenses that result in the gradual “natural” death penalty that consists of withdrawing rejuvenation treatments. For lesser offenses, though, the focus of the criminal-justice system would shift from punishment to restitution. In a future that is far more prosperous and where advanced medical care is abundant, it would be much easier to fix injuries or restore property to a pre-damaged form. The offender would be asked to pay for the damage (perhaps twice the cost, in accordance with Murray Rothbard’s “two teeth for a tooth” rule of restitution).
My video elaborates on all of these points, for those who are interested in delving into them in greater depth.