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In certain episodes of Voyager and DS9, we learn about the existence of the New Zealand Penal Settlement on Earth. But at multiple times during DS9, Sisko and others wax on about how Earth is a paradise: no crime, no hunger, no war, no needs unmet, etc. Indeed, several episodes of DS9 are dedicated to exploring how lax the security on Earth is, with a complete absence of personnel that can deal with violence, because they are so used to being in such a paradise.

So why, then, is there a penal colony on a crime-free paradise world?

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    i think the fact that its now a single "jail" of sorts for the entire planet is proof enough that the planet is peaceful. yet super rarely someone does decide to commit a crime, id imagine such things as crimes of passion are still an occurrence on earth, as its hard to stop things like that in society.
    – Himarm
    May 12, 2017 at 15:28
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    Star Trek is all a lie. Soylent Green is people!!
    – RoboKaren
    May 12, 2017 at 15:42
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    I suppose "no crime" needs to be qualified with a level of precision and doesn't necessarily equal "0 crime". May 12, 2017 at 16:06
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    Also remember that the oh so civilized Jean-Luc Picard has an artificial heart because he was stabbed in an avoidable barfight when he was an Ensign. So even members of Star Fleet are not immune to violent impulses. May 12, 2017 at 17:57
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    Just rewrite the dictionary and you get a happy planet without homeless, poverty or crime. May 13, 2017 at 9:36

5 Answers 5

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I don't think anyone ever claims that Starfleet was crime-free (even TOS had a brig, court-martials, etc). The general claim is that wants have been eliminated

So, in theory, people don't steal things. That's one class of crimes down. You can still do things like commit treason, murder people, and break other laws.

The New Zealand penal colony is a low security prison (presumably the high security criminals are kept off-world, in a universe with broad transporter technology). You keep the people you think you can rehabilitate in an environment that facilitates that. But, as we see in the TOS Episode Dagger of the Mind, there's more than one Federation penal colony.

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    Oh but you most certainly can steal.
    – user11521
    May 12, 2017 at 22:35
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    @Michael Yes, they can.
    – Jules
    May 12, 2017 at 23:13
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The simple answer is that the New Zealand Penal Settlement houses criminals who committed crimes off-world as well. Tom Paris, for example, was imprisoned there for joining the Maquis, a terrorist/paramilitary organization that operates lightyears away. Bashir's father was committed there for leaving the Federation to have his son genetically modified.

RICHARD: I'm going to prison.

BASHIR: What?

RICHARD: Two years. It's a minimum security penal colony in New Zealand.

And while you're correct to note that Earth is no longer as violent, not all crimes are violent (see: Mr. Bashir), and humans will continue to commit crimes in the violent, seedy parts of the galaxy as well. The Federation has to put them somewhere, so why not Earth?

But I would also say you probably overestimate the extent to which violence on Earth is completely gone (Remember Picard and his brother fighting? That's a violent crime!). It'd be more accurate to say that violence between states, religions, races, and other petty differences have been eliminated. Compared to today, it WOULD be paradise, even if a few violent crimes still happen.

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    I have never witnessed a violent crime, or experienced war, and yet I still would not say that I live in paradise. I'm sure that people who are experiencing war today would say my life is paradise, but when all you experience is good, it stops feeling good.
    – Tim
    May 13, 2017 at 9:44
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It seems that life in the Federation is less perfect than we are led to believe. The Federation actually maintains several penal colonies,

Elba II, for example, housed the criminally insane. This included, notably, Garth of Izar who was jailed for attempted genocide during the 23rd century.

Those who were deemed curable in the 23rd century were sent to Tantalus V.

Seemingly, insanity was not the crime de jure of the 24th century. For example:

Ro Laren was imprisoned on Jaros II for disobeying a direct order and The New Zealand settlement you mentioned was home to Richard Bashir and Tom Paris.

Bashir had been involved in the illegal genetic enhancement of his son while Paris was convicted of treason after joining the Maquis.

So to answer your question, in the 23rd century, penal colonies were seemingly reserved for the insane (curable or not). By the 24th century, "crime" seemed to be considered anything that destabilized or threatened to destgabilize the government of the Federation. Paris had been responsible for the deaths of three other officers in a piloting accident and was only discharged from Starfleet. When he joined the Maquis, he went to jail. Bashir was jailed because his actions could have created another Khan Noonien Singh who would have made war on (and against) Earth.

Crime existed well into the 24th century. The Maquis were traitors and/or terrorists depending on who was answering the question. The New Essentialists tried to sabotage Risa. The Orion Syndicate originally only consisted of Orions but seemed to have members from many species by the 24th century (O'Brien infiltrated despite being human).

Why is there a penal colony on Earth?

Richard Bashir described it as a minimum security facility when he was sentenced there. That implies that this was for nonviolent criminals or those who presented a relatively low threat. Paris had been convicted of treason on his first mission with the Maquis. It's possible he was sent to minimum security because (A) he was not seen as dangerous and/or (B) his father (Admiral Paris) pulled some strings to keep him out of a nastier place.

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    I believe you may be confusing Paris with the fact that Robert Duncan McNeill played two separate characters? although admittedly, I believe they changed the character's name to avoid paying royalties to someone...
    – user11521
    May 12, 2017 at 22:38
  • @Michael: I'm not confused. This is a quote from the Memory Alpha article on Paris (not Locarno) "Upon graduating from the Academy, Paris was assigned to the USS Exeter. His career in Starfleet was short-lived, however, and ended after he was involved in covering up his own piloting error which had led to the death of three fellow officers at Caldik Prime."
    – geewhiz
    May 13, 2017 at 15:37
  • @Michael There was only one death in the Lucarno incident.
    – T.J.L.
    May 13, 2017 at 16:43
  • @geewhiz i'm not sure what you're trying to say here: "insanity was not the crime de jure of the 24th century"?
    – owjburnham
    May 14, 2017 at 14:20
  • @owjburnham only that the penal colonies mentioned housed the criminally insane, curable in one case and incurable in the other. Apparently, other motives did not exist.
    – geewhiz
    May 14, 2017 at 16:48
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No crime in this sense would mean petty crimes and violent crimes, but not necessarily something like High Crimes, treason, or small misdemeanors and violations of the law that are not directed against another individual. Crimes against the state, in other words, are not typically what a person thinks of when describing Earth as crime-free.

Let's look at some of the types of prisoners held in New Zealand:

  • ...a possible location for Maquis prisoners to be placed...

  • Tom Paris was sentenced to eighteen months in the New Zealand Settlement after he was convicted of treason.

  • Richard Bashir pleaded guilty to the illegal genetic engineering of his son Julian Bashir in 2373, he was sentenced to spend two years in...minimum security

  • Starfleet Rehab, which administered the settlement, was primarily responsible for the rehabilitation of former Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel.

Memory Alpha

Except for the Maquis rebels, who would have been captured elsewhere and sent to Earth, dealing with criminals like these still allows for "a complete absence of personnel that can deal with violence", as any offenses that are still rarely committed on Earth are just not of that nature.

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    interesting that the punishment for treason is less severe than the punishment for genetic engineering...
    – user11521
    May 12, 2017 at 22:39
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    Most of the answers say similar things in similar ways, all of which I've upvoted long ago, but ultimately this seemed like a nicely laid out and compact way of getting to that point. Jun 20, 2019 at 16:26
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There definitely was crime elsewhere if not on Earth; DS9 was a prime example of this. There were smugglers and arms dealers, people who brought illegal goods like Romulan ale into the Federation, etc. They also had murder. Earth was like a gated community or the suburbs while other parts of the galaxy were more like the bad parts of town.

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