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Are Tough Prisons Really the Best Prisons?

While desires to inflict revenge on offenders by banishing them to uninviting institutions are natural, patterns suggest that ‘luxury’ prisons generate the lowest reoffending rates.

As the debate over retribution versus rehabilitation burns on, governments cannot ignore the effectiveness of prison systems deemed ‘holiday camps’ by many sceptics.

The Norwegian prison system puts the rest of the world shame with reoffending rates of only 20%. In order to draw comparison, reoffending in the US is currently at 77%.

Bastøy Prison has been the subject of countless documentaries and articles on effective rehabilitation due to its remarkably low reoffending rate of just 16%.

Farming at Bastoy Prison

 

The prison is located on an island in the middle of the Oslofjord, Norway and houses just over 100 prisoners in small cottages.

It is the first ‘human ecological prison’ in the world where inmates must work on the prison farm.

When not on the farm prisoners spend time sunbathing, fishing, horseback riding or playing tennis.

Inmate sunbathes at Bastoy Prison

 

These images have sparked controversy but ex-governor Arne Kvemvik Nilsen defended the institution: ‘I run this prison like a small society.

‘I give respect to prisoners who come here and they respond by respecting themselves, each other and this community.’

Mr Nilsen blames governments for high reoffending rates: ‘Losing liberty is sufficient punishment – once in custody we should focus on reducing the risk that offenders pose to society after they leave prison.’

Whether right or wrong, it seems offenders emerge from the climbing walls and recording studios of Norwegian prisons ready to make a positive contribution to society.

Sollentuna Prison in Sweden also provides an example of ‘soft time’, where inmates have private bathrooms and comfortable mattresses.

The prison gym facilities rival many hotels and inmates are able to cook their favourite dishes then relax in front of the television.

Sollentuna Prison, Sweden

 

Despite concerns that this soft-touch approach is far from what offenders deserve, Sweden is closing prisons due to lack of prisoners – it’s seems they’re doing something right.

The ‘Norwegian effect’ has reached parts of the UK.

HMP Addiewell, Scotland, is described as a ‘learning prison’ where inmates are given 40 hours a week of purposeful activity.

The activities are aimed at building a skill set which will enable inmates an easy transition back to civilian life after release.

HMP Addiewell, Scotland

 

The evolving attitude to rehabilitation isn’t isolated to Europe.

New Zealand places heavy emphasis on the link between employment and a crime-free life.

Inmates in Otago Corrections Facility, New Zealand, are taught skills including light engineering, dairy farming and cooking.

Prison director, Jack Harrison states: ‘The vast majority of the people we are working with are desperately keen to get the opportunity to work.

‘They have had the opportunity to gain skills and now they want to get a job, support their families and live a law abiding life.’

Otago Corrections Facility, New Zealand

 

With reoffending rates at 54% however, New Zealand is yet to perfect their prison process.

Famed for their ‘Thriller’ dance, Cebu Prison inmates spend hours perfecting routines to musical hits carefully selected by their warden.

Whilst other elements of this Pilipino prison certainly aren’t luxurious, the recreational dancing is indicative of a more holistic approach to serving time.

 

 

It seems many nations are stunted by focussing on the short term benefits of inflicting tough experiences on offenders.

Mr Nilsen states: ‘Politicians should be strong enough to be honest about this issue.

‘In most countries nearly all prisoners are going to be released. So what happens to them when they are in prison is very important.’