On the internet, I saw a post that the scientists are testing a drug that makes you feel the passage of time differently and that you can feel like 50 years passed in a day.

Such drug should be used for prisons, so that you could drug a prisoner and make him do his time in much shorter time. So you waste a little money for imprisoning someone and also do not waste productive age of someone.

Lets imagine this drug exists and works just fine, because it's made from handwavium-unobtainium with bit of ijustmadeituptainium.

Also, let's imagine that such drug has been already tested and "yesterday" (Earth, current tech) the politicians of USA decided that this drug will be used on people who are lawfully sentenced to prison from tomorrow.

Does this drug change crime rate?

Some background info:

  • You can control the dose of a drug in a way, that person taking the drug can feel like passing 5 - 50 years in prison in one day. (5 subjective years is lowest dose, 50 is highest) with lowest step of 1 subjective year
  • This drug has no side effects
  • Once you take this drug, there is no way in altering the drug. So if you were prescribed/sentenced 20 years, you will personally feel 20 years passing. There is no "antidrug" to cancel this in the middle.
  • Effect on body is, that person taking this drug falls asleep and sleeps for 24 hours and has very vivid dream of being of prison for X years
  • Content of a dream is same for all: Usual prison life, but without being raped or beaten up
  • Yes, that means someone has to hydrate you and maybe inject some glucose in you, but also if someone does not take care of your body, you wake up dehydrated, hungry (and having "accident" in your pants). But I hope we all agree this cannot plausibly kill you.
  • People sentenced for less than 5 years can choose if they go to jail "normally" or if they take 5 year dose drug and be out in 24 hours
  • Currently imprisoned people can decide if they serve the rest of their punishment "normally" or should they take the drug in dose for the remaining years
  • Newly imprisoned people sentenced 5 years or more must take the drug. There is no option of being in prison "normally"
  • At time being, the drug can be either injected or taken orally in form of a pill
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    $\begingroup$ How many test subjects came out insane because they had a 50 year nightmare of being raped and shivved to death every day? That being their imagination of being in jail of course. How is the content of the x years dream controlled? $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    May 28, 2016 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyrus Content of a dream is same for all: Usual prison life, but without being raped or beaten up. And since pill is plot device, consider it being perfectly tested $\endgroup$ May 28, 2016 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ There was a Star Trek episode where they did something similar to this (DS9) but it was a computer simulation. Everything important that the character went through while 'imprisoned' was pretty much based on interacting with stuff and living through the specific scenario, which I don't think is doable with a drug; it's about what happens, not the time that passes. $\endgroup$
    – Marky
    May 28, 2016 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ side effects: 1. new favorite drug for criminals wanting to torture people ("pay us or your kid will suffer for 1000 years") 2. privileged prisoners will bribe the system and receive a fake pill, avoiding the punishment completely $\endgroup$
    – szulat
    May 28, 2016 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ You may want to take a look at Solitare by Kelley Eskridge. A virtual reality device is used to lock prisoners in their mind while causing their experienced time to be 12 times longer than reality. goodreads.com/book/show/214618.Solitaire $\endgroup$
    – Phil
    May 28, 2016 at 22:18

8 Answers 8


It depends: what's the goal of imprisonment?

Is the goal of imprisoning someone to punish them by making them be out of society for a little while, or is it to protect society from a dangerous individual by putting them somewhere they can't hurt anybody? If you're sending someone to prison because you think they need time in time out, then the drug is a fine solution. They'll sit in a corner for a day, it will feel like a long time, and then they'll get out. If everything goes as planned, experiencing five years sitting in a corner will be sufficiently frightening as to make them not want to go to prison again.

However, that seems unlikely. Yes, prison would be uncomfortable, but it would lead to no actual loss on behalf of the prisoner, and would offer no ability to try to rehabilitate. In the case of an exceptionally dangerous prisoner, you wouldn't be protecting anyone from the prisoner by giving them the drug and locking them up for a few days, merely mentally addling someone who is likely already mentally unstable.

Ultimately, the drug strikes me as a form of corporal punishment. You put someone in a several day drug trance not because you want to rehabilitate them or remove them from society, but because a three day drug trance is theoretically miserable. It does not, however, strike me as a suitable substitute for prison.

Unless, of course, that experienced 5-30 year span of time in dreamland can actually contain valuable lessons which can be remembered after waking. If it was possible to rehabilitate someone in a span of 24 hours by giving them this drug, I would consider its use to be superior to imprisonment.

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    $\begingroup$ Valuable lessons: like how Stallone's character felt compelled to knit the sweater in Demolition Man. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    May 29, 2016 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ We're not trained to speak at speeds like these, so this will be effectively years of solitary confinement. Years of torture don't really contribute to rehabilitation, however I'm not sure if that can be called unusual punishment. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:14

Not really

There are two school of thought behind imprisonment, one is punishment and the other is rehabilitation.

Countries which focus on punishment tend to have high recidivism whereas countries which focus on rehabilitation have lower (contrast the United States with Norway, for example).

This drug is a very effective punishment but it offers nothing for prisoners to learn why their crime was wrong or what alternative paths to life they could take upon leaving prison, other than perhaps some time thinking it over by themselves (which I wouldn't trust most violent criminals to come up with a good answer from.)


Another problem with this drug is that a big part of keeping violent criminals in for a long time is to isolate society from violent criminals. If they're out sooner, there will be more crime since they'll simply go through more short-term punishments, get out more often and do more bad things in a single lifetime.

Social interactions

One way this drug could help is isolating prisoners from eachother. A huge problem with putting all criminals together today is that the low-level, inefficient criminals learn from the high-level efficient criminals how to become higher-level, more efficient criminals.

The flipside to this is that we humans need social interaction for our mental health. Prisons typically have rules on how long a prisoner is allowed to be put into isolation as too long would permanently scar them.

This drug would isolate a person for several years.


The prisoners who do come out changed and with better lives are often the ones who've chosen to take higher education while in prison. Now, most prisoners don't do this, but this drug taking away the option completely nullifies the chance of this happening whatsoever.

So I don't see it doing much more than create more problems than those that exist in the first place.

  • $\begingroup$ The question says that the prisoners experience "a dream" of "usual prison life". One might expect that that would include social interaction (without high-level, efficient crime training). This raises the question: could a person's mind create years’ worth of dreams with sufficient variety to preserve his mental health, or would he go crazy because he was, ultimately, just interacting with himself? And could computer-generated scenes be piped into his brain electronically?  (Which leads to the question: could education and other rehabilitation be piped in?) $\endgroup$ May 29, 2016 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ There are more than two schools of thought behind imprisonment; in addition to rehabilitation & punishment, there's also incapacitation (which you grazed in the aging section) & deterrence. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2016 at 4:24

The drug is useless

Our (in the USA) current prison system is a failed attempt at trying to accomplish too many things. Not saying there is a better way, but it's important to note why it exists and more importantly what it is trying to do. Breaking it down by goals:

  • Reform - The general idea is that a criminal can be reformed to a non-criminal through the application of punishment. This works well when the right balance of crime and punishment exists. Typically, these are minor crimes with minor punishments. Unfortunately, if the balance is upset, then there is no reform. If you send someone to jail for 50 years for a speeding ticket, your not going to reform that person, your going to make them more of a criminal. Usually, reform consist of fixing the underlying "why commit the crime" and a dose of "not worth the time". Long sentences don't really accomplish this on their own. There have been some advances in "therapy" or "education" for criminals that do result in real reform, but, generally speaking a person commits a crime because of circumstance and not because of some deep defect.

  • Punishment Another part of our prison system is punishment. For better or worse, we feel that if you harm me, I should harm you back. When taken as a society we go with, "if you harm society it should hurt you too". Once of the ways we do this, while still trying to accomplish "reform" is with imprisonment. It's meant as a form of punishment.

  • Safety In cases where we think society is at risk, another goal is to lock the criminal away in a manor that they can not do any harm. Reform is not worth it, punishment isn't enough, I don't care what you do just don't let the child killer near my child.

  • Justice This is very important. For the victims of the crime, they need to feel that they are getting justice. In some cases this is not possible of course, but the more justice a person feels they are getting the better off they are. Sure, some people will never feel (right or wrong) that they received justice, but you have to (as a society) at least try.

Now with your drug, you do not even try reform. You're not addressing the underling cause of the criminal act. Not that our prison system does a good job of it now, but at least there is the attempt, with your drug there isn't even an attempt.

Punishment is not existing either. Part of the "punishment" of going to prison is the removal of free will and the concept that when the criminal gets out the entire world will be different. How different is a function of time. 15 years means kids have grown up. 2 years means you missed a baby's first steps. You do not address that. Again, it's not that the current system has it right. It's that your pill ignores it all together.

Safety is also not addressed. If the choice to lock someone away is made on the basis of safety, letting them out early does not make them safer.

Justice is also ignored. You killed my little girl, and all you have to do is take a pill! How is that just! Arrrgggg Society devolves to anarchy.

Something else to consider. When a criminal is sent to prison for a long time the world changes, as does the prisoner. A criminal may have a lot of energy at 20, but when they get out at 40 they may have calmed down. The world that created the criminal may have changed. There is a lot of factors that your pill does not address.

  • $\begingroup$ There might still be a slight punishment component in the psychological torture of experiencing 15 years of mental monotony. But otherwise your answer is spot-on. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    May 29, 2016 at 11:22

I'd be interested in the effects on society. Assuming this drug works perfectly (virtual prison) the main benefit seems to be that it makes punishment cheaper.

However, is cheap punishment a good idea? Being able to diminish a 20 year sentence to just 'a few hours in a chair' might lead to society becoming complacent about prisoners rights and demand longer sentences for lesser crimes.

With more acts being punished with more jail-time, I'd expect I high rise in long term mental damage among the population. This would exaggerate inbuilt injustices at a fast rate, faster than the system could adapt.

Bob pirates a film. Film lobby for 5 year jail sentences - after all it doesn't cost the state much - and succeed. Bob is now subjected to 5 years worth of jail mentally, but is released into a society that thinks he's just been a way for a day or two. Disconnected with society Bob tries to fit in, but has lost his connection with his wife and job. Confused he commits another crime is punished with 20 years. Coming out angry he realizes that he still has connections and financial resources, and can commit crimes on the people who sent him there immediately afterwards (almost like time-travel for him). This leads him down a vindictive and destructive path.

Already with Bob a 'normal' fellow you can see how destructive a path this could be - for us it feels like just a few months has passed but for Bob he's had 25 years in jail to plot, and every time we sentence him to jail we give him more time to plan his revenge.

Imagine when this approach is applied to marginalised communities? e.g. black communities in USA, under the pretext of 'War on Drugs'? Now Governments are empowered to punish more people, to a greater level with little cost to hold them back. The greater community will be unaware or unwise of the 'hidden cost' and see it as a humane alternative to jail - after all who wouldn't like to have their son back without waiting 20 years?


From the prisoner's point of view, other answers are great. But what about victims?


They'll happen, soon and fast. I just had this story played in my head:

- Doctor, my life is over!

- It's not, Suzie. Bad thing happened to you, but we'll help you to get thorough.

- He raped me! Nothing will be good again!

- Yes, he did an awful thing, but he got caught and sentenced for 25 years in prison.

- So, for the next 25 years I'm safe? I won't meet him no matter what?..

- ...

- You promised! You promised to tell me truth. How can you help me if you are lying?!

- The truth is, he will spend it in prison in sleep.

- Even better! He will loose so much of his life! He deserves it!

- No, Suzie. Sorry to say that, but he will only sleep for a day. He will have 25 years long nightmare.

- Nightmare about being violently raped?

- No.

- You dare to call 25 years of not being violently raped a nightmare?! All I got in my real life was twelve!

Definitely, unrest and riots would happen. Victims, like Suzie, might figure out that calm hundred years dream is no price for killing their offenders. Or all males, in cases like this. Just to be safe. It's just a day from life anyway, isn't it?

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    $\begingroup$ It's okay. Suzie can kill her rapist and then just sleep it off in 24 hours of that magic pill ;). Ipersonally think it will make people VERY cavalier with crime $\endgroup$
    – Patrice
    May 30, 2016 at 2:55

You have it backwards. The drug should not be the punishment, but taking it away.

Think about it: if you have a drug, that allows you to lengthen your lifespan by programmable dreams in such way, why waste it on criminals?

You can sell pills which allow you to prepare for all your exams in a day (and with no way to procrastinate!), to experience a lifetime as a starship captain, to have hours of extraordinary sex with any celebrity of your choosing... imagination is the limit.

Now imagine being locked in prison for 10 years WITHOUT access to this drug. Cruel and unusual punishment indeed.

So how would it affect the crime rate? Well, it depends on what kind of criminals we are talking about:

  • For profit criminals: only those truly desperate and those in high-stakes thefts would remain in business. If your family is starving, or if you can steal 100 000 000$ then it would be worth the risk, but in any other case - not really
  • Adrenaline chasers: when you can live your life as Arsene Lupin, then Robin Hood and then Danny Ocean, what's the point of doing the same thing in real life?
  • Psychopaths and people with anger management issues: outside some extreme cases they can live out their darkest fantasies over and over again in their dreams. What's the point of risking losing such opportunity?
  • Jaywalkers and other three-felonies-per-day average people: there would be a slight drop in such crimes, because less people would engage in activities like drinking in public places, sexual harassment, etc. (since you can have as much fun as you like in the dream world), but for most people the perspective of prison is already as scary as it gets. Taking the drug away would not change anything, because most people generally assume, that "prison is a bad place, but I will never be convicted, so no problem".

So, summing up: selling the drug to general public and taking it away from prisoners would decrease the crime level by removing some potential motives and making the punishment more severe, but it would not remove it completely.


The consequences of such a pill are troublesome, because of the rules, "Effect on body is, that person taking this drug falls asleep and sleeps for 24 hours and has very vivid dream of being of prison for X years" and "Content of a dream is same for all: Usual prison life, but without being raped or beaten up"

Such a pill almost certainly can never exist, because each individual is different. There's no pharmacological way this could guarantee the same dream for every person. Just think of how different LSD trips are. You'd need to tailor the pill exactly to each individual, and if you can do that, the for-profit world Darth Hunterix mentions becomes extremely viable.

However, what if we remove those two pesky rules, and explore the rest. I think that pill could be far more viable, not only because it is more plausible, but because it could be terrifying.

Let's make a pill that simulates 10 years of something, by making the person dream so powerfully that when they wake, the only description they can possibly give of what they experienced is that it took ten subjective years.

That's ten subjective years of solitary confinement.

Solitary is no joke. Many consider it a form of psychological torture if used for an extended period of time. The human brain is hard-wired to interact with a social environment. Deprivation of this causes deep disturbances. Some who endure it are simply no longer the same person when they come out.

In the dream, one may feel that they are interacting with others, when they are, in fact, not. The above article linked an experiment with Rhesus monkeys given small cloth dolls to act as surrogate "mothers." The Rhesus monkeys clung to these dolls dearly, as though they were indeed a mother, but developed psychoses remarkably similar to those who were given no surrogate mother at all. In that dream, you have no outside influence to interact with, so every single character you talk to in your dream is nothing but a cloth doll.

It may be that you spend 1 day in jail for your punishment, but then spend 2-3 years recovering from the ordeal.

  • $\begingroup$ While I agree that in reality this pill cannot simply exist, you are forgetting how strong handvawium can be. Especially combined with unobtainium and ijustmadeituptainium $\endgroup$ May 30, 2016 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek True, but at some point, one overdoes on handwavium, and physics and biology take the back seat. With enough handwavium, the answer to any such question is "whatever you want," and thus we cannot say whether drugging them solves anything at all. Instead, the answer to that question is whatever you feel like doping your unobtanium with before you pop it in pill form. I can easily make handwavium that does nothing to deter criminals, or handwavium that terrifies them so deeply that they'd rather face the electric chair. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    May 30, 2016 at 7:04

This drug will immediately be commercialized. Every company in the world will want it. "Ok, team - we've got an insanely short deadline - sales has promised this to the customers by tomorrow - so everyone pop their pill, go back to your cubicles, and we'll have 20 years to work on this. WE CAN DO IT!!!!". Pretty soon workers will be addicted to this drug - "Gimme - gimme some TEMPORADEX, man! I gotta have it! When I'm up on it, it's like I'm SUPERMAN! Without it, I'm...nothing! I'm nobody!! I'M JUST ME!!! I GOTTA GET ME SUMMA DAT!!!!!!" - as will their employers - "Yes, yes, we have problems recruiting workers with the necessary skills - but by using TEMPORADEX we can make everyone into a super-worker! This is great!!!!".

Yeah. I gots to get ME summa dat!! :-)

  • $\begingroup$ People will not be addicted to the drug. They will not be competitive without it. Why pay year's salary for a year's worth of job when other guy takes the pill and does it cheaper and faster? $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:19

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