Let's Think About a Different Kind of Prison System
Among the other eye-opening differences: there are no cells with bars. Prisoners are housed in dormitory rooms where they have their own small kitchen, private bathroom and television. They aren't watched by "guards" but by "staff," who must attend a special two-year academy where their all-expenses-paid studies include criminology, law, social welfare and ethics. They are trained to establish meaningful relationships with convicts and to open lines of communication so they can reach the person behind the crime. Staff is paid well, and they get such generous benefits that there is stiff competition to be accepted at the academy.
Even in Norway's most famous supermax closed prison, Halden, the layout looks very different from any American facility. It is nicknamed the Ikea Prison for its modern looking housing units, with wide, well-lit hallways, sun filled rooms and extensive library. A first-class medical department encourages prisoners to maintain good physical and mental health. Staff is trained to motivate, not intimidate.
Wait, you may think. This sounds way too cushy for a prison. Those who break the law must be punished! But Norway must be doing something right. They have the lowest recidivism rate in the world, with only about 20% of ex-cons re-offending. The average U.S. return rate is more than 70%.
Critics say Norway's system is way too expensive. Indeed, they spend nearly $130,000 per prisoner per year. The average here is about $38,000 for federal inmates and between $30,000 and $60,000 for state prisoners. But remember, American taxpayers wind up paying more because our convicts serve longer sentences, are much more likely to return to prison, and the number of elderly prisoners continues to grow. They can cost up to nine times more to maintain than a younger inmate.
I guess it all comes down to what kind of human beings we want our prisons to turn out: people who are skilled and confident, or unskilled and traumatized?
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
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