In the many things the United States “leads” in, incarceration is not the proudest of the bunch. Ever since the rise of for profit prisons America’s incarceration rates have skyrocketed at an alarming 716 people per 100,000.33 That’s over 2 million people incarcerated in a country in which we hold less than 5 percent of the worlds population. We have been embracing 25 percent of the global prison population.34 At an unsuccessful rate of 76 percent of prison reentry, we can’t afford continue spending billions annually on a system that doesn’t work.
Let’s apply our speculative telescopes and search why incarceration is such an issue. As we identified, private prisons (for profit prisons) are a problem. “Private prisons make money by locking people up, and the more people they lock up for more time, the more money they make.”35 It will alarm us all to discover that in 2013 a report from a Washington, D.C. based research and policy group on public services noted that “65 percent of the private prison contracts received and analyzed included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells in a “low-crime tax”.”36 These occupancy quotas guarantee 80-100% occupancy, with 90% as the most average occupancy guarantee requirement. The most baffling part is the “low-crime tax” that practically penalizes taxpayers when prison incarceration rates fall below expected rates. I don’t want to shadow the efforts of many Americans and politicians that are trying to push prison reform. Many are proactively working on this issue for example senator Sanders has introduced legislation to ban privatized prisons.
A practical suggestion is that we analyze research and look abroad for successful solutions. In Norway there is this “unexplainable” phenomenon. Were by they have one of the lowest incarceration rates in the world. Could it be because they have a common sense approach to crime and incarceration? Let’s dig deeper in the abyss of common sense. In Norway, fewer than 4,000 of the country’s 5 million population were incarcerated in 2014.37 That makes Norway’s incarceration rate just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to over 700 per 100,000 people in the US. At the incarcerating rate in America, Norway would have to incarcerate its prison population nearly 10 times over to equal America’s rate. Additionally, when criminals leave prison in Norway they stay out. They have a 20% prison reentry rate. So out of 100 prisoners that leave, 80% stay out.
Bob Cameron who has spent 25 years in the criminal justice field states, “In general, prison should have five goals retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, restoration, and rehabilitation.” In Dr. Camron’s words, “Americans want their prisoners punished first and rehabilitated second.” Prisoners are treated like humans in Norway. In many countries justice is wanted served to just the victims, but what about the citizens, what about society and what about the criminal. They all deserve justice. Inhumane prison conditions and the death penalty can’t solve the problem of crime and incarceration. All it will do is maintain the conditions criminals know best.
Based upon information on Norway’s approaches on crime and incarceration, its safe to assume Norway’s criminal justice system is doing something right. So the billion dollar question, that’s normally spent on unsuccessful prison methods is how are those Norwegians so damn good at maintaining low crime and incarceration rates? To put it plainly the country relies on a concept called “restorative justice,” which seeks to repair the harm caused by crime rather than punish people. This system focuses on rehabilitating prisoners.38
When considering prison reform economic factors need to be taking into account if effective change is the goal. It doesn’t take much to comprehend after analyzing research and statistics that imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. In 2014, incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 previous to their incarceration.39 When imprisonment is approached in a more humane way, it is easily understood that the family of the imprisoned experiences financial hardships as a result. Impaired by the new financial burdens, when the criminal is released employment becomes another difficulty. Subjecting one to socio-economic segregation and are thus susceptible to a continuous cycle of poverty, undesirability, criminality and imprisonment. Consequently, imprisonment directly contributes to the impoverishment of the criminal, of his family and of society by neglecting to reform for future economic potential performance. In order to witness effective prison reform we need to see rehabilitation, social reintegration, retribution, deterrence and restoration methods implemented.
The Young Turks on Norway’s prison system
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on US prison system