What the US Can Learn From Other Countries on Reducing Recidivism
Published May 14, 2020
The United States represents only 4.25% of the world’s total population. Yet it holds 22% of the world’s prisoners. This alone will give you an idea of how this country punishes its erring citizens.
But what’s even more worrying is the country’s recidivism rate. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 83% of state prisoners released in 2005 were re-arrested at least once within 9 years after they got out of prison. Almost half (44%) of them were arrested during their first year of release.
Different people blame different factors for these statistics. Some say it is because of overcrowding in prisons while others point to the country’s tough stance on drug-related crimes. Ultimately, it all boils down to the country’s punitive prison system.
While most developed countries around the world understand that prisoners have to re-enter society at some point, the same cannot be said for the US. Yes, there are initiatives designed to prepare inmates for life after prison. But those seemed to be the exception rather than the norm.
Instead of training and education, more prisoners are working in jobs with wages akin to slavery. They may get some skills out of it but it’s rarely useful when they’re released back into society. Plus, the social stigma towards ex-prisoners makes it hard for them to find a job. As a result, many of them have no choice but to return to a life of crime.
Indeed, the US still has a long way to go when it comes to rehabilitating its inmate population. And we can certainly learn from these countries on how to do rehabilitation and punishment in prison the right way.
There’s a reason why Scandinavian prisons are consistently voted the best prisons in the world. With comfortable beds, large windows, and well-kept grounds, they don’t look nor feel like a prison. In some facilities, prisoners even have their own television sets and bathrooms.
The region also pioneered the open prison concept. Under this, prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentence live in a dorm-like community. They can go to school or work during the day and sleep in their prison cells at night. Inmates don’t wear uniforms and prison guards don’t carry weapons (they don’t need to anyway).
With all these, it’s no surprise that Scandinavia’s incarceration rate is only 20% – almost four times lower than the US.
Ethiopia might be the last country you’d expect to see on this list. But the country has had some success in curbing recidivism in its prisons. And most of that can be attributed to the initiatives being implemented at Mekelle Prison in northern Ethiopia.
The prison implements a holistic approach to rehabilitating its inmates. First, they are given educational and vocational classes while inside. They are also taught financial literacy as well as starting and managing a business. The goal is to provide them with knowledge that will help build their entrepreneurial skills
Aside from the training, they are also granted microfinance loans to start a cooperative. The prison has already supported 31 cooperatives engaged in various business activities. Aside from helping inmates find their footing upon their release, the program also contributed to empowering incarcerated women.
Buiding on Scandinavia’s open prison concept, Slovenia is also implementing the weekend prison. Inmates who have shown good behavior are allowed to work on the weekdays and only come to prison on the weekends. This helps them build and maintain ties to their family and community. It also prepares them for successful reintegration in society.
As of 2019, Slovenia’s incarceration rate remains one of the lowest in Europe.
With a prison occupancy rate of a mere 68.1%, Dutch prisons are one of the least crowded in Europe. Their prison system is so successful that 29 of the country’s prisons have closed between 2013 and 2018.
Aside from a comfortable bed, prisoners also enjoy their own toilet, sink, cupboard, table, and chair. They also have free access to personal hygiene and cleaning products. Some facilities also have libraries where prisoners can read and even hold cultural activities.
Inmates are also allowed to work 20 hours per week on average. Though they receive below minimum rates, labor as a punitive measure is still strictly prohibited. Conjugal visits are also allowed under certain conditions.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.