Given the recent surge in executions as Donald Trump’s lame-duck period approaches an end, the debate about the death penalty has grown stronger. The execution of Brandon Bernard stood out as particularly unjust to many, sparking social media activism and protests to rebuke the death penalty. While the notion that the death penalty is slightly archaic in nature isn’t too controversial, with the amount of countries abolishing it only increasing, there needs to be a greater conversation regarding the American prison model in a general sense.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, including the per capita rate. While the idea of retribution and proper justice over ideals of rehabilitation appears to be ingrained in American culture relative to other countries, mass incarceration has its clear roots in racism and the economic convenience of the prison industrial complex, with this information gaining more traction in the Black Lives Matter movement. While many justify this mass incarceration with the notion that people will feel safer with these people in jail, or that the fear of prison will prevent people from committing crimes, this is simply inaccurate.
The United States has a recidivism rate of 76.6%, meaning that the majority of inmates commit another offense post-release and usually within only 5 years, indicating not only a lack of rehabilitation, but also a lack of fear. In order to improve our current criminal justice system, the U.S should take inspiration from the Scandinavian Prison Model, which places a much heavier emphasis on rehabilitation. This model of more humane prisons has shown to be effective, with Norway having the lowest recidivism rate with 20%.
A Scandinavian prison appears highly different from an American one, with a wide array of amenities available and prisoners allowed to roam freely in the facility. Additionally, guards are encouraged to cultivate friendships and build connections with prisoners, which stands out in stark contrast to the violence and hostility demonstrated by superiors in American prisons. Despite no capital punishment and a maximum prison sentence of 21 years, with 5 years added in increments if a prisoner isn’t appearing to be rehabilitated, Norway boasts an impressive recidivism rate.
These practices can feasibly be applied to American prisons, and there have already been successful efforts. At a correctional facility in North Dakota, supervisors decided to implement the Norwegian-style of prisons and this led to the officials observing a large decline of general violence within the prison and force from the staff.
Although America’s economic disparity is the primary root of the crime rate, we can implement better policy to rehabilitate individuals and prepare a life where they can contribute to society after prison, rather than allowing the cyclical nature of crime and poverty to continue.