California Governor Jerry Brown today announced a major reform plan for the state’s corrections system. “An online prison system,” he explained, “will save the state billions and reduce recidivism.”

Under the program, called Massive Open Online Prisons (or MOOPs), incarcerated Californians will be imprisoned from the comfort of their own homes. They will log on every hour to check in with state corrections and enjoy one hour each day to walk around their own yards. Ankle bracelets will ensure that they do not stray beyond 30 yards of their houses or apartments.

MOOPAccording to MOOP developer Peter Miller, formerly a professor of information technology at the University of Pittsburgh:

Brick-and-mortar prisons are unlikely to keep up with California’s corrections needs: the world would have to construct more than four new 40,000-person prisons per week to accommodate the children who will reach criminal maturity age by 2025.

Prisons are also under tremendous financial pressure, especially in the United States, where rocketing costs have resulted in a backlash from politicians, reform advocates and the incarcerated demanding to know what their money is going towards.

Since 1980, prisons and associated correctional program costs have increased by 436 percent in inflation adjusted dollars. It costs the state $47,102 a year on average to incarcerate someone in a state prison. California spends approximately $9 billion a year on its correctional system.

There is reason to hope that this online prison system is a positive development, says Erin Kane, who heads the Cornell Center for Prison Reform.

MOOPs, which have incorporated decades of research on how people are punished best, could free prison guards from the drudgery of repetitive monitoring. What’s more, technology can record online prisoners’ every mouse click, an ability that promises to transform incarceration research by generating data that could improve corrections in the future. “We can have microanalytics on every website, every computer game, right down to what media each prisoner prefers,” says Kane.

“In 25 years of being a criminal, I’ve never seen anything move this fast,” says repeat offender Mitch Marshall, taking a break from stealing credit card online information from senior citizens. In fact, if I’m arrested for this latest offense, I can go straight to jail, without even leaving my desk.” [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer