What The U.S. Can Learn From Prison Reform Efforts Throughout The World

Image courtesy neontommy.com
Image courtesy neontommy.com

By Joseph Erbentraut

It should come as no surprise that with the worst incarceration rate in the world, the United States has a massive problem on its hands.

With roughly 716 of every 100,000 U.S. residents behind bars, the U.S. locks up nearly one-quarter of the entire world’s prison population. Worse yet, when American inmates are released, they are extremely likely to return. The most recent recidivism data for state prisoners, reported by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, shows 68 percent are back behind bars within three years.

Efforts to reduce the American prison population that are already underway, including a push for drug-sentencing reform and some new investments in rehabilitation programs, have had some success. Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in over a decade.

Still, there’s still a long way to go — and a lot American policymakers could learn from progress made in other parts of the world. Here are some unexpected places where prison reform efforts are having an impact.

Norway: “Nature is a rehabilitation thing now”

In Norway, many prisons are “open,” allowing inmates to take part in recreational activities like swimming and tennis and to work in the facility’s farm or to repair bicycles, just to name a few examples. Inmates are housed in private cells in wooden cottages equipped with a flat-screen TV, a mini-refrigerator and a private bathroom.

One example of an open prison is Norway’s Halden facility, a 75-acre maximum-security prison surrounded by blueberry woods, just across the border from Sweden. It has been described as the “most humane” prison in the world. According to the New York Times, the modern facility is focused entirely on rehabilitation, as reflected by the Norwegian Correctional Service’s motto: “Better out than in.” The country has focused on job training, therapy and education since its corrections program was overhauled in 1998.

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