Prison reform is defined here as an idea or attempt to improve the prison system of America. Prisons have long since stood as metal boxes for bad people, but through new examples of foriegn designs, prisons are being questioned as well as defended. Through reading and understanding this paper, the reader will hopefully be able to make a better informed decision on how and where they stand.
Prison reform as an idea started in the late 1600s when the stockades and more public forms of punishment were mainly in use. Then punishment was centered around the idea of embarrassment and making an example out of the offender. This idea only changed when society looked at the system and recoiled at its both ineffective means and barbaric nature. That changing of ideals was when the first instance of the now widely used prisons came to be, a large building full of prisoners kept for long periods of time. The other idea at the time was that people in prisons should be kept separate from each-other in solitary confinement such that they not be contaminated by the other criminals behavior and instead be influenced by the guards. While soon enough they realized that solitary confinement leads individuals to become insane, the longevity of the terms they spent confined remained the same. The main change as stated by Robert Perkinson in his book “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire” would be how “… the U.S. prison population has swelled 600 percent” (Perkinson). As such was happening sentences grew longer with slimmer chances of being released earlier (Perkinson). With the explosion of the prison population through the late 20th century, there was bound to be change.
Prisons did indeed change and are now a blend of the old and the new, where individuals are punished for their crimes and also given opportunities to improve themselves through programs that focus on things like education, religion, and workplace skills. The system is still however based upon the principles of the past with the majority of crimes punished to show others how not to behave. The system also still has a set of scales in judging an individual’s worth, to say if they get to have an opportunity to have their freedom returned or if they shall simply die. Matthew Bulger along with others with the “American Humanist Association” have been working for years with other individuals to “fix our nation’s broken criminal justice system” (Bulger). Recently through a combined effort of organizations like the “American Humanist Association,” a series of changes are beginning to take place that move prisons closer to the more nuanced ideals.
Prison reform has exploded over the past couple of years as new ideas come from europe. Examples like Sweden and Norway have people questioning if the American system is truly the best. One faction, like the owners of “Why America Should Change – REhabilitation not incarceration” believe that the United States should transition because of the high incarceration rate of the U.S. as well as how they believe it costs too much. They state switching to the swedish model will not only decrease the number of prisoners in the system, but also will save the government nearly 17 million dollars (REhabilitation). Others disagree and point to a story on “The Local” where it exclaims “Sweden’s prisons are nearing capacity” (Lars). This group cites that Swedish prisons could not handle the amount of people in america exemplified by the apparent rise in violence stated by “The Local.”
Another faction believes that a more appropriate approach comes from Norway. Doran Larson at “The Atlantic” believes that the scandinavian alternative is vastly superior to the American counterpart. She states that “Open prisons… should be a model for the U.S.” (Larson). Larson states that American prisons are flawed due to the history of discrimination of poor induals, “Under the guise of the wars on drugs, crime, and terror, the urban poor and disenfranchised, especially young black men, have been rounded up in mass numbers …” (Larson). She states that the reason prisoners are coming back is due to their poverty and such that “Most prisoners are uneducated, riddled with unresolved traumas and ill-treated mental health problems …” but that because of the country’s ability to “… attend more closely to the circumstances surrounding individual criminal acts.” that they see more success (Larson). Larson firmly believes that America’s closed prison system is a main cause for the recidivism rate, stating “The more closed a system is, the harder it will be to return to freedom” (Larson). While Larson believes that the United States should use the design of Norway’s prison as a model Rakesh Sharma believes they would not even work in America. Sharma states, in “3 Reasons This ‘Perfect’ Prison System Will Not Work in America,” that the two countries work differently as, “Norway subscribes to the social welfare state model,” and “the American economic system is a melange of capitalism, libertarianism, and restricted social welfare” (Sharma). Sharma elaborates this to say that based upon each country’s difference to the other, the systems could not be interchangeable like “The Atlantic” describes. Sharma also points out that “Norway is rich” and how the “spend approximately $39,000 per prisoner,” while America “spends $31,000 per prisoner” (Sharma). Sharma uses this fact to further his point that the economic system’s differences creates an almost impossibility for their prisons to be similar and is generally “a bad idea” (Sharma).