Cutting Prison Population Through Rehabilitation Not Deprivation
    Category: Column By : James Kallman Read : 605 Date : Monday, June 20, 2016 - 01:55:47

    Controversy recently erupted in Norway after a local court ruled that the solitary confinement of mass murderer Anders Breivik was inhuman and degrading punishment. Even in laidback Norway, there were those who favored his solitary confinement, for after all he had shown little concern for the rights of the victims of his own inhuman acts of terror. Nor was it surprising that the government should appeal the ruling given that Breivik had threatened to convert both fellow inmates and prison staff to his cause—or hold them hostage—during his incarceration. Here is a man that definitely needs locking away for the protection of society.

    That’s not necessarily true for many of those incarcerated in increasingly crowded prisons around the world. In more than 100 countries, their detention centers now house more inmates than for which they were originally designed. This has happened before: in the 18th to mid-19th century the British, for example, used a becalmed fleet of prison hulks to house convicts prior to shipping them to penal colonies overseas. While there are no overseas penal colonies today, a growing number of countries are beginning to ask questions about the effectiveness of their criminal justice system.

    The U.S., for instance, is reaping the unwanted consequences of the “three strikes” law that even former President Bill Clinton now acknowledges was not the smartest legislation. Indeed, the urgent need for a criminal justice reform bill is one thing on which both Republican and Democratic parties agree. In Indonesia, too, the strain of overcrowded and understaffed prisons is putting increasing pressure on the government to raise funding to improve prison facilities.

    Yet, before doing this, it might be worth debating the relationship between crime and punishment. The law of cause and effect dictates that wrongdoing must bring retribution, but how such retribution is best applied for society’s benefit, as well as for the prisoner, is crucial. Of course, those that pose a threat must be denied their liberty, but care must also be taken that incarceration is not just an act of vengeance, for every sentence must always provide an opportunity for rehabilitation of the convicted to become a productive member of society.   

    This is a two-way street and society must also be willing to accept back those who have paid the penalty and learned from their past mistakes. They must be given the opportunity to atone and one mistake should not bring with it a lifetime of diminished rights.   

    Perhaps this is where Norway gets it right by treating prisoners as people. While serving their time—anything up to a 21-year maximum sentence—they are offered education, training and skill-building programs to prepare them to return to society. The success of this approach is shown in a recidivism rate of just 20%, whereas one-third of U.S. prisoners are arrested within six months of their release and three-quarters within five years. No one gains if prisoners are released only to return to prison, so perhaps we should concentrate on rehabilitation rather than the deprivation of rights.