Crime and Punishment

I was recently in a debate about the role of detention in society. I started it by suggesting that prison is not enough. It rarely, if at all, changes the outlook for the person sent there. People do ‘clean up’, but I assume those who do are usually the ones who wanted to anyway. In countries such as ours (UK) and other places with similar approaches to imprisonment, I am curious as to what the re-offending rate is. I am willing to guess it’s pretty high.

But if prison is not enough, what options are there? I don’t see capital punishment as a viable option. If the point of punishment is to make someone see the error of their ways and change, capital punishment negates the entire point. Nobody can change if they’re dead. As for seeing the error of their ways… same deal. What about guilt? I would consider a guilty conscience a terrible thing to live with, and indeed seems to be the main reason why people actually end up reforming in the first place. Sitting in prison for years and feeling guilty about what they did is a pretty powerful way to make someone very sorry indeed. Capital punishment saves them from all of that.

So what’s wrong with what we have already? Prisons include having a little cell to yourself for your stay. You lose freedom. You get to mingle only with other ‘undesirables’ while there. It’s pretty much designed to be completely comfort-free, and a horrible place to be. Should be a good deterrent, no? The question of reasoning is something I’ve addressed in previous posts. I feel that the current system, albeit a good deterrent for crime, does very little to stop crime from happening. People who commit crime nearly always have some sort of reason, a root cause, for doing things that ultimately end with them going to prison. For some reason or other, the initial act is worth the high likelihood of going to such a terrible place.

During the debate I was in, someone raised the point of Norway having a very low rate of re-offenders. That person linked me to various sources about a Norwegian prison called Bastoy. I was very skeptical about it when I first read some of the sources. It seemed that Bastoy was a poor excuse for a prison, being pretty much a holiday camp. In their free time there, prisoners get to go horse riding, fishing, cross country skiing and can play tennis. Much of the rest of the time, they’re working on farms to feed themselves, and living conditions are pretty good. There’s even photos of inmates out sunbathing… in front of their own cottages. What’s the deal here? How can this be a prison? People will be committing crimes just to get in, surely. But no… this prison has the lowest re-offending rate in Europe.

I am willing to guess that the ‘secret’ is not about guilt, punishment, and people trying their darndest not to end up there. I think it’s likely that a stay at Bastoy involves integration. Things that motivate a person outside to commit crime, such as mental illness and poverty, are less of an issue if you know how to deal with them properly and legally. Instead of being caged up and given the very least respect, it seems inmates at Bastoy are given work, dignity and a chance to learn how to be a functioning part of a community, all while still sacrificing their freedom. Skills that they then take outside with them and apply in the real world. I can see how this works, and how it works so well.

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