An age-old debate: how should prisoners be treated?
Should they be caged up like animals? Left to fester in cold cells? Is punishment the best way to encourage change? Or should preaching and practicing rehabilitation be the main aim of imprisonment?
The United Kingdom spends more money on public order than the United States or any other European Union countries. Nevertheless, jails are highly ineffective. With an imprisonment rate of 150 per 100,000 people and over 83,000 prisoners currently locked away in England and Wales. Since 1994, English and Welsh prisons have been overcrowded.
Arguably, the whole point of imprisonment is to lower the number of criminals in our society and rehabilitate them by punishing them and taking their freedom away. With nearly 75 percent of teenagers under 18 being reconvicted within in a year of release, it’s clear that the system’s agenda is not being achieved.
“As it stands now, justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate, but in fact make the people that experience them worse.”- James Bell, an American lawyer and prison reform activist
It’s not just the United Kingdom that is failing at upholding the ultimate goal of the prison system. Countries across the world are not following through with their agenda either.
As a result, a growing number of prisons are embracing rehabilitation and a new form of incarceration. By giving inmates more responsibility, freedom, and comfort, prisoners are given the chance to change.
Justizzentrum Leoben, a minimum security prison in Austria, allows convicts to live in one-bed cells containing a television set and ensuite bathroom.
Halden Prison in Norway takes on a campus-style prison with two-bedroom houses where inmates can enjoy overnight visits from family and friends.
Critics of minimum security prisons believe that they could encourage and increase unruly and dangerous behaviors. Nevertheless, Halden boasts the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.
Situated on an island off the coast of Norway sits a minimum security prison home to 110 criminals name Bastøy Prison. Inmates here are encouraged to cycle along biking trails, go on walks, fish in the surrounding waters, and interact with the 69 staff members who work there.
The idea of giving prisoners a higher amount of freedom is slowly beginning to become more supported. Prisoners in UK prisons are now being encouraged to listen to radio stations such as the Prison Radio Association. Many of the shows run by the Prison Radio Association are even presented and produced by prisoners.
“Reducing reoffending is of benefit to everybody. Equipping prisoners with skills and confidence is crucial in bringing down reoffending rates. Prison radio offers a unique, innovative and effective way to communicate with prisoners and engage them in education, debate, and community,” says a spokesperson from Prison Radio Association.
An inmate from HMP Lindholme expresses his praises towards the station, “I’ve just been introduced to NPR and the inspiration your radio station gives has been a very welcome breath of fresh air. I have now found a new lease of life and I’m now going after a dream I once had as a student at college”.
The United Kingdom prison system is focused on punishment versus rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the results of giving inmates a higher sense of responsibility and loosening our grip on prisoners looks to be the best way to fulfill the agenda of our prison system.