Locking up won’t do any good
By Yun Suh-young
What angered many after the terrorist attacks in Norway was not just the fact that the man responsible killed 77 innocent people, but also the possibility that he could be locked up in one of the most luxurious prisons in the world.
Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the mass killings on the peaceful Norwegian island of Utoeya, could be sent to Halden Prison. The facility boasts modern amenities including flat-screen TVs and refrigerators in inmates’ cells, and a variety of recreational activities like cooking and music classes.
But a prison is still a prison, says Todd Clear, dean and professor at Rutgers’ School of Criminal Justice. The dean was in Korea to participate in a conference at Dongguk University on recidivism and correctional programs.
“Even the most humane prisons are still prisons. Your movements are restricted, you have restricted capacity to see your loved ones and to interact with other prisoners in the ways you would want to. So I would never use the word luxurious in the context of prison,” he said.
Clear, whose expertise lies in criminal justice research aimed at reducing crime, believes that prisons are not the solution to reducing recidivism rates. It’s not where people become rehabilitated, he says.
“I personally think that this guy should be locked up and severely punished. I would completely approve of a long prison sentence and even if he was never released, that would be fine with me,” the professor said, when asked what should be done with the Norwegian terrorist.
“However, he’s so visible you can imagine that he could be managed by correctional authorities in the community and watched closely so that he would never be able to commit crimes like this.”
In other words, community supervision could be more effective in terms of reducing or preventing repeat crimes.
Effectiveness of community supervision
Serious crimes are off the discussion table because those criminals deserve severe punishment. But for everyday crimes committed by young men, there’s an alternative to prison, says Clear.
“People who are under correctional provision are less likely to commit crimes,” he said. “Correctional programs that take place in the community are about 20 percent more effective than the same programs that are put in place in a prison cell. So if you’re just purely thinking about what it will take for this person to never commit crime again, you should arrange community supervision mechanisms.”
Besides, what inmates learn in prison can be counterproductive in terms of rehabilitation, he added.
“A lot of people think that brutal treatment ought to happen in a case like this but there’s a good argument that can be made that when the prisons are brutal, you’re really teaching exactly the wrong lesson, which is: If the state can be brutal to people, why can’t individuals be brutal to each other?”
He says there’s research that shows people who are treated badly in prison have higher recidivism rates. “If you’re treated badly, the moral message the guy gets in prison is that if you have enough power, you can do whatever you want.”
There are things that incarceration can accomplish, like incapacitation and punishment. But rehabilitation is not one of them, Clear says.
“There are lots of other things you can do for rehabilitation ― community service for 3 years, rebuilding houses, parks, cleaning up streets and so on.”