Incarceration or rehabilitation? Norway and our own prison system offer two very different models and philosophies of dealing with criminal behavior. There are two articles both from the NY Times one entitled "The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison" and the other entitled " Inside Americas Toughest Federal Prison."
The Norway model ".... is wholly focused on helping to prepare them (inmates) for a life after they get out. "
On the other end of the spectrum is the USA's only federal maximum security prison, the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence ,Colorado.
In Norway, there is no death penalty, no life in prison ( maximum sentence is 21 years) and the goal is to prepare inmates for life when they get out. At ADX, there is the assumption that there is no life after prison. It's 23 hours a day in a 12 x 7 room. As former warden Robert Hood stated " This place is not designed for humanity."
If nothing else, the cost contrast is startling:"... if the United States incarcerated its citizens at the same low rate as the Norwegians do (75 per 100,000 residents, versus roughly 700), it could spend that much ($93,000 per inmate per year) per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year. "
(As per the article. "Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this.")
Both articles are thought provoking which is my intention in sharing this and the intention of the reader who sent them along.
According to Wikipedia "The United States has less than 5% of the world's population and 24% of the world's prison population. According to a US Department of Justice report published in 2006, over 7.2 million people were at that time in prison, on probation, or on parole (released from prison with restrictions)." It is estimated that there about 2.4 million incarcerated in prisons ( half for drug related offenses) and another 12 million that cycle through county jails throughout a given year. There are clearly vastly divergent ways that the world deals with crime and punishment as well as redemption, as evidenced by the above two referenced articles.
As a parent of a child currently incarcerated in the NH prison system for drug related crimes ( drug driven would be more accurate) who is housed in a protective unit 23 hours per day, I find that there is little chance for meaningful rehabilitation. The proliferation of cheap highly addictive drugs is ubiquitous and their impact will continue to challenge our criminal justice system for many years to come. Our country is plagued by drugs and gang affiliations and overcrowded prisons have become little more than a means to institutionalize its inhabitants way of life. Filling up the prison cells with drug addicts has not been a successful strategy.
I believe that there is a segment of the criminal population that is beyond any hope of reform or meaningful rehabilitation. Prison for life or capital punishment should be the only choices.
What then of the much larger segment of our prison population and it's high rate of recidivism?
The New Hampshire Department of Corrections (NHDOC) had $80.3 million in prison expenditures with $1.4 million in prison-related costs outside the DOC's budget. That amounts to about $34,080 per inmate. That does not include county jails.
I don't have the answers, but how can we ignore the cold hard fact that the United States of America incarcerates one quarter of the worlds prison population? Why isn't addressing that fact a top priority in Washington and state houses around the country?