Imagine not walking on grass for 20 years!
That’s how long a man had to wait in solitary confinement before setting foot in a healing garden at Oregon State Penitentiary.
This garden is part of a new way of thinking about prisons, inspired by Norway.
What is this new approach?
In Norway, prisons value treating people with dignity and respect. Inmates are called “residents,” and guards are trained to talk to and listen to them, rather than just giving orders.
That way everyone in prison – both the people who live there and the people who work there – can have a better life.
Oregon and several other US states are trying these ideas to see if they can make their prisons better places, too.
researcher from UC San Francisco examined Oregon’s new prison methods and came up with some impressive results.
The number of violent incidents has fallen sharply. From 2016 to 2021, assaults among inmates fell by nearly 74% and situations in which staff had to use force fell by nearly 86%.
People spent more time outside their cells and engaged in social activities. This was especially good for those struggling with mental health issues.
Why is that important?
Solitary confinement can be very damaging to a person’s physical and mental health. But many US prisons still use it.
This new approach could help change that. “The paper shows a promising model for helping people get out of solitary confinement,” said Cyrus Ahalt, a researcher at UCSF.
Spread the idea
The program began in Oregon but is also gaining traction in other states such as North Dakota, Washington and California.
In Oregon, change began in 2019 after prison officials learned of Norway’s handling.
The program has been so successful that some of the people working in the prison system are leaving their jobs to spread the idea elsewhere. Toby Tooley, a former prison warden, said: “This absolutely needs to be rolled out nationwide.”
Improving everyone’s life
dr Brie Williams, who founded Amend at UCSF, explains that it’s not just about making prisoners’ lives better.
It’s also about helping the people who work in prisons. “We have this hidden public health crisis — not just among the people who live in the prisons, but among the people who work there,” she said.
For this new way of running prisons to take off in the US, both the people who live in prisons and the people who work there must be convinced that it’s a good idea.
But if early results are any indication, this Norwegian-inspired approach could make American prisons safer and more humane for all involved.
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