Feb. 23, 2056
WASHINGTON DC–For the first time since the controversial practice of home-jailing was introduced some 15 years ago, the number of American households electing to house a convicted felon has surpassed the number choosing to home-school their children. U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials point to the numbers and declare home-jailing initiatives an unqualified success. Detractors, including a broad coalition of current and former prisoners, civil-rights activists and members of the threatened Prison Guards of America and U.S. Prison Workers unions, continue to protest the program even as it moves into its 16th and what may be its most profitable year.
“We simply applied the principles of network decentralization to what appeared to be an insoluble problem,” explained Bureau Chief Madeline Fender. “We needed more and more prison space, but at a certain point, the marginal costs of adding a new cell to these huge complexes simply outweighed what it cost society to leave felons on the street. That’s the economic reality, but the political reality was that we couldn’t let these people out; so we came up with a novel solution which turned our liabilities into assets.”
Bureau officials quickly discovered a healthy demand for prisoners once the private sector stepped forward with fairly low-cost jailing facilities that could be installed in a small spare-room or walk-in closet using simple household tools. In fact, officials point to the phenomenal economic success of companies serving home-jailers as a beneficial collateral effect of the program. “Not only did we keep felons off the street and satisfy the desires of many Americans to take responsibility for some of the less fortunate among us, but we also started an entirely new industry that’s growing by leaps and bounds.”
Critics of the program typically point to the more outrageous of the products offered to home-jailers, including some of the colorful outfits and hats sold for home-prisoners. “It’s just not appropriate to allow these sorts of dress-up activities,” declares a prominent coalition spokesman. “I mean, look at these outfits: PonyZilla, My Little Walrus. These are kids shows; these costumes are being marketed to kids. There’s no reason that a grown person, felon or not, should be treated like a dress-up doll by the kids just because Mommy and Daddy have a home-prisoner.”
Social scientists disagree about the reasons for the popularity of home-jailing. While most dismiss Prison Bureau claims that home-jailers are motivated by a desire to fulfill their civic responsibilities, few can agree on what leads people to want to take a prisoner into their homes. Columbia sociologist M. Leigh Jamish points to a social void in contemporary life that home-jailing does something to fill: “The past sixty or seventy years have seen a fairly quick and widespread homogenization of world cultures. Only a few generations ago, it was fairly easy to visit a place, or encounter a person who differed from you. Now, it’s not so easy. And home-jailing seems, to me, to be a way for families to experience a proxy for that kind of social and cultural difference, but in an environment over which they have total control.”
Incidents of abuse and escape have been fewer than even optimistic officials expected. That may in part be due to the pre-screening most home-jailers must pass before taking custody of prisoners. “Not only do we make sure that these people have the means and equipment to support a prisoner, but we also offer in-depth training programs, including thorough courses on how to effectively use restraints, how to prepare the ‘prison food’ that the prisoners expect, and how to set up a system of rewards, privileges, and punishments to maintain prisoner discipline,” explains Monty Frost, director of Home-Jailers’ Education at the Prison Bureau. “We’re proud of the preparation we provide. They leave here with everything they need to keep a secure, healthy, and compliant felon in their homes.”