American prisons need to change

Bunks in an American prison. (credit: world finance)
Bunks in an American prison. (photo World Finance)

By Carly Spayd ’20

Instead of focusing on rectifying the problem, prison is focused on punishment. Yes- prison itself is where criminals go after being sentenced for their crimes, but should it be as bad as it is? After all, prisoners are human. The truth is, the prison system is an unjust way of reformation.
Outside the United States, specifically Norway and Sweden, reformation based prison systems are far more successful. The recidivism rates prove the other method works, with Norway having only 20% of criminals returning compared to 76.6%for the US.
In Norway, the prisons are nothing like those in this country. There are common areas- table tennis, aquariums, pool tables, and even darts. Throughout the halls are art from the inmates created in craft areas. There are no bars on the windows and open kitchens and spaces from low security to max. The guards are there to help the inmates, not to hurt them. Compared to the states, this seems like heaven.

Here, prisons are heavily dictated even if they are not max security. An inmate is confined to his cell or to small common rooms, and prisoners are constantly under scrutiny of guards and given little to no freedom. There is a strict regimen to follow and little exposure to the world outside of confinement. Even the architecture around them is bleak.
However, the biggest difference between America’s prisons and those in these countries is the way their residents are treated.
“Our role is not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence: They have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us,” said Nils Öberg, Director-General of Sweden’s Prison and Probation Service, said in an interview with the Guardian in 2014.
“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.” says British clinical psychologist Arne Wilson.

The notion of treating prisoners as human beings has positive effects both inside and outside of prison. Inside, there is recovery, outside, there is reformation.

About Carly Spayd

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