Crime and punishment are the kinds of issues that surface regularly in the news — and this week, thanks to Ninan Tan, they are surfacing in Futures too. In The Department of Correction, Ninan explores how we might deal with future criminals. When she’s not pondering how the justice system might evolve, Ninan makes films on social issues — you can find out more about her work on her website and by following her on Twitter. Here, she reveals how her latest tale came about — as ever it pays to read the story first.
Writing The Department of Correction
As far as I can remember, crime — big or small — has always fascinated me. Above all, I’m interested in what causes relatively ‘good’ people to commit heinous acts of dishonesty and violence. Clearly, there’s a multitude of reasons. A few examples are greed, anger, jealousy, pride, desperation, hatred and societal pressure. But one trait in particular jumps out at me: empathy, or rather, the lack of it.
Empathy refers to a person’s ability to understand the emotions of others. It affects an individual’s perception of crimes as well as that person’s likelihood to break the law. Those with a lower ability of perceiving others’ emotions are more likely to engage in wrongful and/or illegal acts.
As a sci-fi aficionado, I began to imagine how correctional facilities of the future might manipulate empathy to ensure rehabilitation of their convicts; how they could serve better as psychological clinics to cure the ‘patient’s’ malady, rather than herding them into isolation (something that would, if anything, snuff out the modicum of existing empathy instead of working towards increasing it).
The Department of Correction is set in a future where the solution is simply to impose ‘forced empathy’ by condemning the convicts to relive the crimes they have committed from the perspective of the victim.