Photo: David Goehring
AMERICANS CARE A LOT ABOUT Law and order. We care about it so much that we named one of our favorite TV shows after it, and still watch said TV shows after five spin-offs and 26 years of programming. But our obsession with law and order doesn’t seem to translate into a particularly effective system: we have the world’s highest incarceration rate but this does not translate into lower crime rates, and nearly two-thirds of the prisoners we release end up getting rearrested within three years. Which begs the question: what’s the point of all of this law and order if it’s not significantly reducing crime or at least rehabilitating criminals?
At least one country seems to have this figured out: Denmark. Denmark has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, and also a recidivism rate that’s about half that of the United States. How do they do it?
Well, for one thing, they don’t treat their prisoners like prisoners. They treat them like human beings with dignity. Some Danish prisons allow prisoners to make their own food (using knives), wear their own clothes, and have private family visits. They’re even granted leave from prison, with the understanding that they’ll return. Oh, and these “open” prisons also don’t have walls or fences. Prisoners, if they so choose, can escape by just walking off the premises.
If prisoners do escape and then get caught again, they will be sent to a higher security prison, but sometimes they escape and aren’t heard from again. They are aware some prisoners are drug users, but they don’t conduct searches of the prisoners’ rooms.
Danish officials say that they see fewer instances of recidivism and fewer instances of prisoner-on-prisoner violence because of this policy of treating prisoners with dignity. They believe that by treating their prisoners as normal human beings, they are more likely to be successful in rehabilitating them. And that ends up being good for both the prisoners and the society as a whole.
h/t: Washington Post