Correction facilities: Are they really correcting?

A YouTube video worth watching:
Does Prison Work? – Thoughty2

I’ll be honest and say I hadn’t thought too in depth about prison systems and what not, but when Sam and I watched this video in our morning stay-in-bed-til-noon ritual it really captured my attention and made me curious. I don’t know much about the New Zealand prison system but I was doing some reading up to kind of get an idea on our crime rates and so forth. I could learn a thing or two from my law-studying friends, but I thought this video would be a cool topic for this weeks’ “Wisdom Wednesday”.

I actually said to Sam, “Why is it called a correction facility?” Like I said, I don’t know a lot about prison but my take on it is that there doesn’t appear to be a lot of correcting happening, well especially in NZ and America. How does putting people who already have social and mental disorders in a boring plain room in a place with other people with the same or similar problems “correct” them? This is where the video fascinated me as it introduces us to the Norwegian prison system. Many people say, and fairly, that they are too soft on their criminals and that these people should be correctly punished for the crimes they have committed.

If you don’t have time to watch this video or want a brief explanation, basically what Arran (Thoughty2) tells us is that Norway’s main focus in their correction facilities is to reduce the rate of reoffending by rehabilitating their prisoners and basically re-socialising them. Arran talks about two prisons in Norway: Halden and Bastoy.

Halden Prison provides resort-like accommodation, allow the prisoners to wear what they want, they have access to proper food, kitchen, are able to shop for ingredients and cook for themselves and can basically roam free within this facility. There is a gym, sports hall, library and even a music studio which is available for the prisoners to use. They are even able to get paid jobs to help out in the prison. Norwegian perspective on this is that you need to treat these criminals like humans, because a person’s human needs don’t just disappear when they are incarcerated. Bastoy Prison is apparently even more luxurious than Halden, located on an island where prisoners are able to roam free and apparently have good relationships with the guards, sometimes even being invited in for a coffee.

Not surprisingly though, no one has ever actually tried to escape! There isn’t much point when they are provided with a safe home, food and technology – living a better life than a lot of us. Norway focuses on teaching these individuals on how to survive out in the real world, cooking for themselves, working and actually helping them to get jobs once they leave prison. In our society, a conviction is pretty much a big red cross on your CV and what chance do you really have at getting a job after that?

This system is seemingly effective with a 20% reoffending once prisoners are released, which is pretty amazing in comparison to America’s huge 76.6% who are arrested within 5 years of being released. The only information I could find on NZ recidivists rates were from 2003 which was 66% of prisoners (meaning that 66% of prisoners reoffended within 4 years of release).

If you consider the fact that our societal structure is partially to blame for the crimes that occur, this type of rehabilitation is effective because it teaches prisoners how to look after themselves. A lot of crimes (like theft and burglary) are committed because these people can’t afford to buy luxuries for themselves. Some people are willing to do whatever they have to do to survive, on their terms. Although this may represent a problem within an individual, it represents a bigger problem in society itself. If you teach these prisoners how to live on their own once they leave, provide them with education and a job, what need will they have to recommit crimes if they already have everything they need? Maybe this is why their reoffending rate is so low. Arran mentioned that Norway also has free healthcare and dental care, which will still be available to the prisoners once they are released. Even this fact may contribute to lower crime rates in their country all together, because they look after their people and it doesn’t cost an arm and leg to check in with a doctor or get a filling.

Of course, some criminals are just well: criminals. But clearly there is something that can be done to reduce crimes, especially in those who just need to find their place in the world. I think it’s quite clear what needs to be done. It’s more a matter of putting these systems in place and actually doing something about it. Many societies wouldn’t be comfortable in blaming themselves for the problems that occur. Norway places a trust in their people, giving them a second chance that a lot of people in New Zealand and else where would never receive.

It’s hard to even imagine how it might feel knowing that someone who killed someone you loved, could go to a place and live in potentially better conditions than you and get treated far better than they deserve. It’s hard to accept this circumstance in our society because we all want revenge, and we want people to suffer for the crimes they commit. The Norwegian community don’t appear to have this same anger towards their criminals, and they appreciate that their system is doing the best it can to reduce these numbers. Their prison populations are decreasing every year, whilst elsewhere are still rising.

As of the 31st December 2016, there were 9,914 prisoners within New Zealand prisons, which as of right now is 0.2% of our population. 50.8% of those prisoners are of Maori descent, and 32.1% are European. We can’t say that the reason for half of the prison population being Maori (when they only make up 15.4% of our countries population) is their own fault. If you take a look at the bigger picture, it’s saying something about our society, and although these days it may be unintentional, certain people get pushed to the side, even if we don’t realise we are doing it. Europeans are known for taking over countries and I think even after many years, it’s hard to feel equal when someone has come into your own country and taken control of things. Maybe there is a pressure on certain people to commit crimes because they aren’t receiving the right education or being taught the right morals, and that can be an endless cycle. It’s easier to blame individuals because “they have a choice” rather than blame societal structure. Although people do have a choice, they may not be in the right positions to make those choices in the first place. It’s every man for himself out in this world and some will do what they think they need to do, unless we provide them with the help they require.

I think the world could learn from Norway’s system. I don’t mean providing a luxurious facility with access to things that some everyday people don’t even have, but taking a step in the right direction by actually rehabilitating our criminals and teaching them how to look after themselves. Treating these individuals like humans rather than reckless animals, because majority have already been mistreated in society, which is exactly why they’re in prison in the first place. Norway has a very positive outlook on their people and their prisoners, and you cannot deny that although their system is seemingly “soft”, it’s fucking effective.