Friday, November 14, 2008

How they do prisons in Norway

While National and ACT look to be on the verge of finally implementing the "hang 'em high" brigade's screaming for ever more vicious and inhumane treatment of prisoners, its worth looking at how they do it in one of the societies we want to emulate: Norway. The Guardian's Erwin James - a former prisoner himself - visits a Norwegian maximum security prison, and is surprised by what he sees. It's a prison, alright - but its very different on the inside than those in the UK (or in NZ):

Lief beckons me to follow him. "Come, I show you where I work," he says. I follow and soon we are in what I recognise as the education department. It is very clean. He shows me a classroom. There are rows of wooden desks and chairs, like any classroom, except each desk has a computer on it. "Every prisoner here has a computer in the classroom," he says, "and a computer in their cell."
And those computers have internet access. Why? Because its vital to their education, and to keep them connected with their families (something recognised, even in NZ, as helping to prevent recidivism).

The sadists about to be put in charge of correctional policy in NZ would no doubt denounce this as "soft", but the Norwegians are clearly doing something right: their incarceration rate is less than half ours. But rather than acknowledging the fact that humane prisons work, we have for electoral reasons been driving in the opposite direction. Judging from the US, where mass-incarceration has caused widespread misery and made prison companies rich while having no effect on crime rates, those policies can only end in failure.