Friday, March 11, 2011

No Walls, No Bars -- Would it Work?

I love posting articles about how other countries punish people.  Even if the U.S. system comes out looking like it's run by a bunch of Neanderthals.

This very worthwhile article from The Wire describes a prison in Norway that uses no walls, barbed wire, locks, or bars to keep its inmates in check.  The concept also forces prisoners to take care of themselves and not become institutionalized:  
This is supposed to be a prison. But Raymond Olsen doesn’t want to be here in the world’s most liberal prison, on this Norwegian island in Oslofjord, an island so small that it takes less than an hour to walk around its perimeter. Freedom beckons on the opposite shore, where the lights glitter at night like rhinestones. The 2-mile trip by boat to the mainland takes less than 10 minutes.
The warden, Arne Nilsen, wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other. He doesn’t want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.
The inmates on Bastoy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime, and petty theft. Some 115 prisoners live on Bastoy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community. The idea is that the prisoners should have an incentive to stay, and that they are still there when the count is taken—four times a day. ...
This paradise has been around for 20 years—and has a warden who loves statistics. Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastoy, as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole. The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island—and because no one left Bastoy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.

Olsen, the new inmate, is expected to work. He will earn 50 kroner a day. He is expected to get up every morning, cook his own food, and do his own laundry. He doesn’t know how he will manage.
Could a system like this work in the U.S.?  The most famous island prison in America is Alcatraz, which was considered anything but humane and is now a museum.

The truth is that a lot of low and minimum security prisons in the U.S. don't have barbed wire or walls and even let prisoners work outside the prison grounds.  That's not to say there aren't a million other controls on prisoners' daily lives, which can leave them feeling lost at sea when they return to society and have complete freedom.

What do you think of Norway's island prison concept?

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