May 24th, 2012

US Prisons: Centers for rehabilitation or stagnation?

Does the United States justice system do enough to rehabilitate lawbreakers? Today, CNN.com published a story about the world’s nicest prison, which allows inmates to roam freely around a fenceless perimeter, prepare their own food, work with animals, receive a stipend and even take computer classes. This Norwegian jail accepts criminals who’ve committed a wide range of crimes, from murder to embezzlement. Those in charge of the Norweigan prison in Bastoy believe these activities help build an inmates’ self-worth and equip them with the skills to effectively reenter society — thus preparing them for life after imprisonment. According to the article, only 20% of Norwegians who leave prison commit crimes again – an astounding number compared to the approximately 50% re-offender rate in the United States. Why is that? As we reflect on people in the news who could face possible jail time, such as the man in custody for the Etan Patz case, George Zimmerman and even Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man responsible for attacks that killed 77 people last year, one can’t help but wonder how difficult it would be for those people to reacclimatize after serving their sentences.