Prison can be a place to get better

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Prison can be a place to get better

By Brandon Astor Jones


Steve Snodgrass under a Creative Commons Licence

"We have to think about prisons in a different way. Of course society needs revenge, but that is not the way to run our prisons. Many people here have done something stupid that they will not dot again. But prisons are also full of people who have problems. Is it a good idea to give more problems to the prisoners for the state and make them bigger problems for society because I have treated them badly? We know that prison harms people. I look at prison as a place for healing, not just for the prisoners’ social problems but also for the problems they get from the state during their years in eight square metres of high security."

Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, Prison Governor/Warden of Bastøy Island prison in Norway

I found an old newspaper article when I was taking old papers out of a prison cell. It was an article by Erwin James called ‘The prison that works’, from the Guardian 4 September 2013. The article said: The governor of a jail in Norway has a reoffending rate of only 16%. He talks about what he did for this very great success. Erwin James said that the prison is getting a lot of attention from around the world. The prison has some of the most serious criminals in Norway. But the prisoners do not live in cells. They live in houses in a kind of village.

In most of the rest of Europe, and America, the reoffending rate is between 65 and 70 per cent. Why does Nilsen’s method work? I can tell you: it is because of Nilsen’s use of respectful and humane treatment.

Prison administrators – especially in the US – have to start treating prisoners like human beings. They have to allow people to write to and visit prisoners. In 1995, no prisoner in G-Unit herein the prison in Georgia was allowed to write letters to people who did not live in the US. Writing to friendly people and having visitors usually helps to rehabilitate prisoners. Prison administrators often do not like rehabilitation of this kind but they will not use their own rehabilitation.

In all cases, we should treat prisoners humanely from the moment they are in prison. Then, all of the support after prison is likely to be useful – not only to free society but to the ex-prisoner as well. Being in prison is more than enough punishment. But most prison administrators think they must take revenge on prisoners. They are wrong.

The idea that prisoners are greatly influenced by other prisoners’ criminality is not really true in most cases. The fact is that prisoners are more negatively influenced by prison administrators than by other prisoners. It is true that prison administrators contribute more to reoffending rates and ‘street crimes’ than anyone on the planet!

Yes, I know that some prisoners do not change and it seems that they should always be in prison. But how can anyone say that a person cannot change – especially if you change the way you treat them? If you have never tried treating prisoners humanely, then you cannot judge.

If you have to worry about something, it is whether or not some of those who run America’s prison systems were intelligent enough to be with the visitors from 25 international organizations who wanted to know what Nilsen did.

Nilsen has found a way to be successful with a lot less expense than those prison administrators who continue the old ways.

Some prison administrators treat their prisoners badly and then they say they are surprised when they find out one of their ex-prisoners has attacked someone in the street. The US has many islands that are perfect for the kind of prisons Nilsen supports. The Georgia Department of Corrections should ask for Nielsen’s help but we prisoners in Georgia know that is not likely to happen very soon.

Please write to me: Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3 Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison Post Office Box 3877 Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA

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