The US has the highest incarceration and recidivism rates in the world. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the US locks up nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Most of our prisoners are serving terms for non-violent, minor property and drug addiction crimes, or violations of their conditions of parole or probation, while the poor, the under-educated and various racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the prison population. Prisoners are isolated from their communities and often denied contact with the free world and the media and access to educational and legal materials is in decline. Prison administrators wield total authority over their environments, diminishing procedural input from experts and censoring employee complaints. We oppose the increasingly widespread privatization of prisons that choose to keep them coming back to prison. As a solution, the US can learn a lot from Norway’s prison system. Norway has proven that focusing on rehabilitation of criminals rather than isolating them in a maximum security prison cells is the most effective method of reducing crime and recidivism rates. In addition to their focus when it comes to prisoners, the lowest prison sentence a person can get in Norway is 21 years, prisoners can vote, and they have some of the lowest murder rates in the world! Therefore, we believe that our country needs seriously reform our prison system and adopt alternatives to how we sentence criminal offenders:
- Encourage and support positive approaches to punishment that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging.
- Release prisoners with diagnosed mental disorders to secure mental health treatment centers.
- Treat substance abuse as a medical problem, not a criminal problem.
- Release prisoners who are too old and/or infirm to pose a threat to society to less expensive, community-based facilities.
- Make reduction of recidivism a primary goal of parole.
- Never house juvenile offenders with adults.
- Establish and fund programs to strengthen self-help and community action through neighborhood centers that provide legal aid, alternative dispute-resolution practices, mediated restitution, community team policing, and access to local crisis/assault care shelters.
- Abolish the death penalty.
- Establish freedom on bail as a right of all defendants charged with non-violent crimes.
- Increase compensation for jurors and provide childcare for those serving jury duty.
- Prohibit property forfeiture and denial of due process for unconvicted suspects.
- Improve living and working conditions in our prison system to operate like rehabilitation centers in quality similar to how the prison system works in Norway.
As one of the most rich and powerful countries in the world, it is astounding how we continue to implement unsuccessful prison policies that only proves to encourage bitter resentment toward society and create more re-offenders. Although Norway spends three times as the US on prisoners annually, they have the lowest recidivism rates globally that can translate to more cost-effectiveness in the long term. Like with working conditions, we believe that happy people are the biggest drivers to the success of this country economically and socially.