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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Strategic CSR - Prisons

The articles in the two urls below compare maximum security prisons in the U.S. and Norway.
The articles are long and the issues complex but, needless to say, the two main institutions featured are like night and day. In the U.S., mental illness is routinely ignored and solitary confinement is the norm, rather than the exception. As a result, the prisoners commit awful acts against each other and, equally often, against themselves. In Norway, by contrast, the prisoners are treated with humanity in open-plan communities that were designed with rehabilitation as the goal. As such, violence in the facility is rare.
The issues surrounding incarceration are intensely complex and the article is clear that judging the effectiveness of one prison versus the other (in terms of recidivism, at least) is far from straightforward or conclusive. More importantly, however, I thought a series of quotes at the end of the second article spoke volumes in terms of how a society structures its core institutions (such as its legal system, it's courts, and it's approach to incarceration). Essentially, these prisons are reflections of the broader societies in which they are based. They reflect values and morals that are central to that society (consciously or subconsciously) that, I think, has ramifications far beyond the prison system. In particular, I see parallels in the issues that consistently arise in this Newsletter and around all aspects of CSR:
The article finishes up with a summary of a discussion with a Norwegian anthropologist (Ragnar Kristoffersen) who studies incarceration and recidivism:
"After nearly an hour of talking about the finer points of statistics, … Kristoffersen stopped and made a point that wasn't about statistics at all. 'You have to be aware — there's a logical type of error which is common in debating these things,' he said. "That is, you shouldn't mix two kinds of principles. The one is about: How do you fight crimes? How do you reduce recidivism? And the other is: What are the principles of humanity that you want to build your system on? They are two different questions.' He leaned back in his chair and went on. 'We like to think that treating inmates nicely, humanely, is good for the rehabilitation. And I'm not arguing against it. I'm saying two things. There are [sic] poor evidence saying that treating people nicely will keep them from committing new crimes. Very poor evidence.' He paused. 'But then again, my second point would be, … if you treat people badly, it's a reflection on yourself.' In officer-­training school, he explained, guards are taught that treating inmates humanely is something they should do not for the inmates but for themselves. The theory is that if officers are taught to be harsh, domineering and suspicious, it will ripple outward in their lives, affecting their self-­image, their families, even Norway as a whole. Kristoffersen cited a line that is usually attributed to Dostoyevsky: 'The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.'"
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Inside America's Toughest Federal Prison
By Mark Binelli
March 29, 2015
The New York Times Magazine
Late Edition – Final
The Radical Humaneness of Norway's Halden Prison
By Jessica Benko
March 29, 2015
The New York Times Magazine
Late Edition – Final