Laser Weapons in Prisons: Will They Restore Order or Be Abused by Guards?

Sasha Brown-Worsham

If you want to stop a prison riot from ever starting in the first place, a new laser "weapon" that emits a single beam of unbearably painful heat seems like it might work.

This is not a science-fiction movie, this is real. The laser, which is made by Raytheon, is controlled by a joystick and computer monitor and emits a beam about the size of a CD up to distances of about 100 feet. It penetrates the skin up to 1/64 of an inch deep and immediately causes the victim to jump away from the intensity, which has been described as: 

"... Opening an oven door and feeling that blast of hot air, except instead of being all over me, it's more focused,” Commander Bob Osborne of the sheriff's Technology Exploration Program told the Daily News.

The laser will be mounted at the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles where there are about 3,700 inmates and 257 inmate-on-inmate assaults occurred in the first half of the year.

I get the general concept, but I can't support the execution (pun intended).

It feels dehumanizing and like prisons are treating prisoners in inhumane ways, shocking them like dogs when they do something wrong. We need to have a modicum of respect for human beings even if they are prisoners and, to me, this beam feels more like a video game.

As the prison officers tested it in the news reels, they shot the beam at one another and laughed like it was great fun, which made me nervous. Stories about guard cruelty against prisoners is almost as common as stories about inmate-on-inmate violence. Although I think both need to be stopped, I don't think handing guards a giant torture toy is the best way to do it.

It also begs the question: Just how effective would this be anyway?

It's a beam of heat that stops burning when they step away. How is this more effective than tear gas or stun guns or any other number of methods that are used to subdue prisoners?

I can just envision some guard getting a big kick out of making prisoners "dance" by shooting the beam at them.

The truth is, I have never been in a prison. I have never had any involvement with a prisoner or even known anyone who went to prison, but in my very limited understanding, this doesn't seem like it's anything other than a high-tech toy.

What do you think? Does this seem effective to you?


Image via mrebert/Flickr

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