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As it seeks to become a leader in robotic technology, South Korea is about to put a new type of droid through its paces: a robot prison guard.

Under a project sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, trials of the robots will be held for a month at a jail in the city of Pohang, southeast of Seoul, from March.

The robots are designed to patrol the corridors of corrective institutions, monitoring conditions inside the cells. If they detect sudden or unusual activity such as violent behavior they alert human guards.

“Unlike CCTV that just monitors cells through screens, the robots are programmed to analyze various activities of those in prison and identify abnormal behavior,” Prof. Lee Baik-chul of Kyonggi University, who is in charge of the 1 billion-won ($863,000) project, told the Journal.

The robots can also work as a communication channel when inmates want to contact guards in an emergency.

According to Mr. Lee, prison officers have welcomed the idea because the robots can potentially reduce their workload, particularly at night.

And how about the reaction of inmates?

“That’s a concern. But the robots are not terminators. Their job is not cracking down on violent prisoners. They are helpers. When an inmate is in a life-threatening situation or seriously ill, he or she can reach out for help quickly,” he said.

Mr. Lee said his team is putting the final touches to the appearance of the robots to make them look more “humane and friendly” to those behind bars.

An Armed Society is a Polite Society

I thought you might enjoy this recent bit about crime figures in the US.

Anti-gun activists note that the cities with two of the sharpest falls in murder rates, New York and Washington, have enacted strict gun control laws by US standards. Yet Houston in Texas, where some regard it as criminal not to own a gun, has also seen a sharp drop in homicides.

One of the most widely accepted explanations is also one of the most politically and socially sensitive – that the imposition of sharply stiffer prison sentences since the early 1980s, which has resulted in the US having the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world, has kept large numbers of criminals off the streets.

The US imprisons 2.3 million of its citizens, a number that has risen dramatically since the 80s when state legislatures began greatly increasing prison sentences out of fear of the surging crime rate.

"We now incarcerate four times as many people as we did 20 years ago," said John Roman, director of the District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute, who has spent years studying crime trends in the city and the US. "Just by sheer size you’ve removed a lot of potential offenders from the street. I don’t think that’s very popular in many circles but it’s very hard to argue with."

I live in Arizona, arguable a state with the most lax gun laws in the union. It is disconcerting to see people with handguns on their hips, and no concealed carry permits required, carrying in locations that would normally be excluded. Yet, according to the FBI crime statistics, Jan 2011, Arizona manged to be in the top 20% lowest firearm related crime rate (assault/robbery/murder) of all the states. Even when “normed” by crimes per 100,000 population.

California, a leading anti firearm paragon, leads the pack in all categories except murder. That category is lead by three other places with strict anti gun legislation.

data sources and visualization tools are linked below.

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