A major plot point of my story that's been bugging me for a while has me wondering what exactly the (specifically American) prison system could and would do to deal with the fact that the entire prison population suddenly has superpowers, and I was wondering if I could get some help with this.

A quick summary of how powers work in my story:

Everyone 13 or older has a brand on their arm that contains four circles on it. Every week, on Saturday, at 12:00 PM EST, one of those circles fills up with a magic rune that grants them a new supernatural power.

Everyone gets the same rune per week, and once all four circles are filled, the rune in the fourth slot is overwritten with the next week's power when it arrives, and if you want to keep it you have to switch it with a rune in another slot (you can do this with your mind, and there's no way for anybody else to affect the slot order of your powers).

In addition, everyone who was old enough to have a brand when this first started had two free, impossible-to-delete powers granted to them permanently: one that roughly doubles their strength, and one that lets them heal any injury and regrow any lost body part, in a time range going from an hour to a week depending on severity.

Now, the biggest problem this presents to running a prison is the fact that it means that at that time every Saturday, every person on Earth, including the entire prison population, is going to get a new power, and nobody has any way of predicting what that power will be. And that's the real issue: what are they going to do if one week the unknown godlike entity giving out these powers decides everyone should be able to teleport, or walk through walls, or fly?

For the first six months this does not happen, as the mysterious entity seems to have a somewhat low-fantasy design philosophy when it comes to how powerful the powers are. To give some examples:

  • The ability to temporarily sacrifice access to another rune to summon an animal familiar
  • No longer needing to sleep
  • Wall clinging (this one is a close call to be sure)
  • Opening a hammer space portal to a 6' x 6' x 6' container that nonliving objects can be stored inside
  • Super hearing

But eventually a week comes when a bunch of new powers are given out all at once (even expanding the brand from 4 circles to 6 and giving out two new permanent powers as well) that appear to have been specifically designed to shatter social order and, among other things, get every single criminal out onto the streets again.

But what would they do before the effort to keep prisoners in prison ultimately fails? What changes would or could be made to prison protocol to at least attempt to deal with inmates with super powers, and what possible added measures could be taken to future-proof a prison against potentially jailbreak-abetting powers they have no way of being able to predict?

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    $\begingroup$ I'll...just link my highest voted answer, as it dealt with using the blood of an individual who could suppress mutant powers as a building material. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jun 3 '18 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ Cut their arms off. Somehow permanently fill the circles on their arms. Execute them. Problem solved. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jun 3 '18 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ Seems like a classic how-would-a-nonmagical-system-change-if-I-added-magic. Since it's magic, the answer is: Any way you, the author, wish it to change. There are only the limits you impose. For example, since everybody has superpowers, many criminals may not survive their first venture to be caught and sent to prison, so whatever prisons morph into might not be important. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 3 '18 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like a situation where prison would become far less common, embracing a more rehabilitation focused justice system. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 3 '18 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Do all people get the same weekly superpower at once, or granted superpowers can be different? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 '18 at 6:35

I'm a current prison guard, here's some insight.

I would refuse to book in an inmate with super powers. We can do that by the way, if we feel our facility is not equipped to contain or care for an inmate we will refuse them. That being said you are talking about a massive undertaking, possibly running into the billions. Look up the SCP writing project and read up on some of their containment procedures for super powered and supernatural beings and objects here: http://www.scp-wiki.net

Basically every cell must be made custom for each individual, and specially trained and equipped staff must be on hand to monitor, care for, and contain each individual. Frankly, neutralization is the cheapest and most efficient goal. Once you have one of these beings captured killing them would be infinitely cheaper and more safe than risking containment. Containment would be a very expensive last resort for a super-powered individual whom you cannot kill for whatever reason.

In your scenario the social order of the nation would decay very very quickly. A state of emergency would be declared and regular concepts like due process or incarceration would quickly become meaningless. The only feasible way to maintain order would be overwhelmingly brutal and swift retribution for major crimes. We're talking about summary executions becoming the norm here. You can't possibly have a normal society after such an event.


Here is the solution.

Every Saturday, by 11:55AM EST, every high-risk prisoner is heavily sedated. On 12:00PM EST sharp, a new kind of superpower is revealed. Authorities determine what kind of power that is, and if this power is too strong to keep a prison secure, all of its inmates are kept drugged for the whole 4 weeks.

With the use of tracking devices, only "very super" powers, like Magneto's will need a full 4 week sedation.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the best answer so far. Unless one of the powers is immunity to drugs. I would combine it with exploding collars as a fallback and monitor which powers the inmates keep to prevent circumvention of either mechanism. $\endgroup$ – Syzygy Jun 4 '18 at 16:33

Through trial and error, there will be a recognition that there is either a rune or series of runes that allow the user to negate other magical powers. Once this rune or combination is discovered, Law enforcement and correctional agencies rapidly seek out people who have this rune, and put them through a rapid training course, pair them off with more senior people and put them to work to negate magical powers.

Since the person can choose to keep their rune(s), the employer will provide some pretty enticing incentives for the holders to do so, building up their skills and experience.

Things will suck quite hard initially, since essentially you have created a world where all the cops and corrections officers who can do useful things are rookies, but with sufficient time, these new officers will be able to settle into their work. Recruiting new officers to replace them will be a matter of reading people's runes (rather than resumes), then putting them through a quick battery of psychological tests to see if they are mentally suitable for the job. People who pass then get the signing bonus to keep their runes, and go to the academy like normal recruits.


Explosive Collars

Do what some shows have done like Battle Royale, or dead man wonderland (dead mans collar is poison but close). An explosive collar is fitted around the prisoner’s neck. If they break the rules, the collar explodes if they leave the area the collar explodes. If they look the wrong way the collar... you get it. But this should only be used for inmates of minor crimes, death row or lifers should be executed so they don't pose a threat to the public. Until a time when a rune (or combo of them) makes the collars useless, the most cost effective then equipping and training stuff each week. It sounds harsh but it’s the best and most humane way I see keeping them inline.

  • $\begingroup$ Eventually one of the powers could be immunity to explosions or teleportation without clothes (including no implants). $\endgroup$ – Syzygy Jun 4 '18 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Syzygy then it can be an artery implant - without the implant, a person would bleed to death. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 '18 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander, since 4 powers can be had at the same time and a healing power is even mentioned in the question, this is not a solution. $\endgroup$ – Syzygy Jun 4 '18 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Syzygy healing power here has its limits. "Hour to a week". Arterial bleeding has to be fixed withing a few minutes. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 4 '18 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander A week is presumably for a lost limb. But will even a papercut take at least an hour to heal? All things considered, a bleeding artery is a fairly minor injury (although immensely dangerous) and should heal pretty fast. There's also a chance a stronger healing ability comes along at some point or something that doesn't quite follow reason like immunity to bleeding out. $\endgroup$ – Syzygy Jun 5 '18 at 9:40

Some of the rules will need to be rewritten as socially not acceptable methods are likely necessary.

On a case-by-case basis, each inmate needs to be assessed on its danger to society if they escape, and the likelyhood that they will attempt it when given a power that gives a high success rate of escape.

With inmates that dont have a high danger to society but do have escape risk you give them GPS to keep track and capture them after escape. Capture might constitute having biometric data so a custom tranquilizer can be used to knock that person out. Actually, just give GPS to all inmates regardless of risk. Better safe than sorry.

High-risk cases and dangerous inmates will have only one solution: Make sure they arent consciously able to try out their new power until the guards know what it is and how to prevent escape, which might need to be "keep em asleep/sedated until the rune passes".

As an alternative to the "explosive collar" idea I just saw, have implants connected to the GPS. If the GPS cant determine the location properly or it doesnt show the coordinates associated with the prison and its grounds (or prisoner travel locations) it knocks that person out.

  • $\begingroup$ How cost effective is it to keep prisoners sedated? $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde Jun 3 '18 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Its not cheap I think. From what I know aneastetics is expensive and includes putting people under. Ofcourse without needing to balance it around cutting people open and a much larger scale production the cost is going down, but it'll still be pretty expensive. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 3 '18 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Jason Clyde ofcourse, expense of society if released vs expense of sedation measures is weighed. Many lower risk/low expense inmates would get a fake dose in their impants to reduce costs but keep the threat of worse punishment if they attempt escape and were the few who got a real dose (aside from GPS tracking them) $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 3 '18 at 16:54


If you had a prison like the one in The Demolition Man you could keep them "on ice" so to speak and rehabilitate them using neural stimulation.

No risk to guards and no chance of escaping.


Think "Suicide Squad".

Every inmate gets a device injected that the prison can remotely detonate. Of course detonating it remotely would be a last resort. You don't blow up a prisoner who was only in prison for petty theft.
As a more humane version, it could use a sedative to put the escapee to sleep, though it could probably not contain enough fluids to maintain sedatives to put someone to sleep for more than an hour or so, which means that especially in a mass escape, some prisoners might be lucky enough to wake up before the police manage to get to them.

In addition the implant tracks the position of the inmate through GPS and transmits it to the prison. Countries would have contracts with each other so they can use the local wireless/phone networks (remember that GPS is only receiving location data, not sending it) and there might be countries that prevent wireless access, i.e. safe havens for prisoners.

To utilize the location data, a team of "retrievers" (not dogs, humans) are by contract required to keep their teleportation powers and any escapee is immediately chased by a squad that can track him in real time.

Another option that would probably not work in real life, but appears often enough in books and movies to not require a lot of explanation/handwaving, would be to keep the prisoners consistently poisoned, but kept alive with an antidote/repressant mixed into the food or water that keeps the poison inactive for 24 hours. Miss your dose of poison repressant because you decided to take a stroll outside of the prison walls, well, you've got 24 hours to come back to prison before your intestines turn into goo and all your healing abilities won't help you against that.

In summary, you don't want to rely on holding people inside. You expect them to get out, it's inevitable, you just have to make sure that getting out is the easy part for prisoners, staying and surviving outside is the difficult part.


Everyone gets the same powers at the same time, right? So while criminals might have incredibly powerful abilities, so will the cops, as well as the criminals potential victims.

A criminal teleports into your house and tries to kill you? You and your family can just teleport away yourselves. Criminals are knocking down walls by sneezing in their general direction? So can the cops.

All you really need is prison guards who can quickly learn and adapt to whatever this weeks new power will be. Everyone has healing powers, so most injuries inflicted by these criminals will probably be non-life threatening, so long as the victim can get away. The main concern is that with all these super powers being thrown around, there's going to be massive infrastructure and property damage.


Bathysphere Prison

If the air pressure inside your prison is significantly higher than atmospheric pressure anyone who teleports to the surface will explosively decompress. If they teleport out into the ocean near the prison they'll either drown or rapidly die from the extreme cold (arctic seawater is often well below freezing) so to escape an inmate needs: some sort of power to escape the prison itself, water breathing, cold resistance, and sufficient endurance to make the arduous journey back to civilization whilst avoiding undersea drones, mines, and military submarines that can kill them with high powered sonar.

Or you could just keep them sedated, that would probably be cheaper. enter image description here


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