"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Sunday, March 29, 2015

“Better out than in”

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? 


joe Cormier/jcormier2@myfairpoint.net said...

Thought provoking subject!

The whole concept of crime and punishment has been handled differently, historically.

Crimes ... smoking pot? You can become President.

Who says what "crime" is ... religion ... morals ... elected officials.

How is crime handled ... financially ... protecting the public ... politically correct?

Maybe history could be repeated, and create penal colonies/camps, instead of so-called enlightened societal prisons.

Costs to incarcerating a prisoner are more than giving them money and reporting to a parole officer; obviously,severity of crime needs to be factored in.

Sample: if elected to BoS you must report to the legislative body each year, and special meetings petitioned by same.

We've got a lot road work, bridge work, etc. that needs to be done, but no money to do it.

Maybe a 21st century penal colony("a" not "i") could be studied.

Then again, punishment, like volunteering for a MoBo committee could be an answer.

Penal Colonies




No Easy Fix said...

Interesting read in the NY Times. The numbers of prisoners in U.S are 2.2 million compared to Norway's 3,800. Comparing the penal system in the United States to Norway's is like comparing Moultonborough NH to NY City.

Out of 237 countries, the United States has a total resident population of 320,590,000, making it the third most populated country in the world. The U.S covers an area of 3,794,100 sq miles. In contrast Norway's population of 5,109,059 is 115th. Norway covers an area of 148,747 sq. miles

Norway is a shipping superpower, a seafood giant, and the fifth largest exporter of petroleum in the world. In 1969 when oil was discovered off the coast of Norway, limits were put on the oil revenues to save them for future generations thus allowing Norway's small population to enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world, life is good in Norway.

The United State's prison system is just one more thing on the list of big government boondoggles that needs fixing. If we can't fix the IRS, EPA, Education etc. how are we to fix the broken prison system?

Thomas Harding said...

Advocate of big government here.
For the drug issues. Ganja should be decriminalized and legalized in the Colorado Model.
For other drugs, the state should provide free taxpayer paid drug rehabilitation. And as many times as it takes. This is less expensive then to just lock them up with all of the other criminals where they can learn new criminal trades.
We should also allocated state taxpayer funds to teach skills, GED, etc. to those incarcerated.

An a side note, the prison store on Main Street just north of the NH prison was closed because of budget cuts. The implications are huge toward the rehabilitation of those in prison. Very sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

The NY Times article ends with a quote from Ragnar Kristoffersen, an anthropologist, who teaches at the Correctional Service of Norway Staff Academy and published a research paper comparing recidivism rates in Scandinavian countries. He best sums it up.

“You have to be aware — there’s a logical type of error which is common in debating these things,” he said. “That is, you shouldn’t mix two kinds of principles. The one is about: How do you fight crimes? How do you reduce recidivism? And the other is: What are the principles of humanity that you want to build your system on? They are two different questions.”

He leaned back in his chair and went on. “We like to think that treating inmates nicely, humanely, is good for the rehabilitation. And I’m not arguing against it. I’m saying two things. There are poor evidence saying that treating people nicely will keep them from committing new crimes. Very poor evidence.”

Even the experts don't have the answer.

Anonymous said...

Hate to burst your bubble Tom but the government lost the "War on Drugs."