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To an American eye, these prisons look like prisons: 10-meter walls, cameras, steel doors.I’ve heard men describe Scandinavian closed-prison conditions in ways that echo those of the American prison where I have led a writing workshop since 2006: officials intent on making life onerous, long hours in lockup, arbitrarily enforced rules.Prison size is not determined by crime rates but by what states decide to treat as crimes, how much punishment the public demands, and, in the U. today, how successful the prison industry is in fomenting this demand.And all of these factors are determined by whom voters imagine this punishment landing upon.This peculiarly American institutionalization has created a nation where few middle-class white Americans can name anyone they know personally who has been sentenced to prison, and even fewer black Americans of any class cannot.In 1993, Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie (a major influence on Scandinavian penal policy) had already unpacked this phenomenon.
Decisions about best practices are left to professionals in the field, who are often published criminologists and consult closely with academics.It’s the end of my twelfth prison tour, and I consider the semantics of the question: If you can’t tell whether you’re in a prison, can it The Americans look shocked and afraid. The wife cocks her head back, as though she’s ventured too far.The son—fit as my La Crosse-playing students—takes a step in reverse, just outside the gate, and says to his mother: “I you.” (Linda clearly wonders what she’s said to cause such a reaction.)Then the son adds, his voice cracking on a nervous attempt at sarcasm: “It’s sure reassuring to know we’re being protected from criminals.”The Americans gather into a family huddle. The son grabs the top of his head—unable to believe this conversation is even taking place.First, an important caveat: Nordic prisons are not all open facilities.Closed prisons here date to the mid-19th century, copied from Philadelphia’s Eastern State, or New York’s Auburn, back when those prisons represented models of humane treatment.
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The assistant warden who has led Linda and me around, Timo, looks like a wizened roadie: graying beard, black vest and jeans, red shirt, biker boots, and a taste for slim cigars.