Published on March 17th, 2020 | by Diogo Costa


Recidivism in the US and how it can be mitigated

In any list of countries with the worst or most violent prisons in the world, the United States will be present. Even in the lists of the most inefficient prisons in terms of rehabilitation of prisoners for society and a high rate of recidivism. But in recent years, a light has been shining at the end of the tunnel.

In 2013, almost a year after Norway’s prison system became notorious in the US for its methods of rehabilitating prisoners and low rates of recidivism, correctional systems from several American states began sending teams of administrators and jailers from their prisons to learn something useful for local reforms.

After all, the rate of recidivism in Norway is only 20%, the lowest in the world. This means that the country is able to rehabilitate 80% of its prisoners, way more than the American reality as, in comparison, the rate of recidivism in the USA is 60%, meaning that only 4 out of 10 prisoners do not reoffend.

Back in 2017, groups of correctional offices from 12 states were dispatched to Norway in order to study their prison system and come up with practical ideas for initiating reform in their own systems – German and Dutch prisons were added to the itinerary.

As it seems, Americans officials learned a lot in this trip. They saw closely how a criminal behavior can turn into a law-abiding behavior. But deploying the systems of these European countries on American territory is an entirely different story, as the prevailing culture in the USA is punitive and does not make much room for prisoner rehabilitation projects. It is believed that people who commit crimes should be punished, not “spoiled”.

The current president of the United States has taken the first step to this reform, with the appropriately named First Step Act, which is the one of the most significant crime legislation reforms in years. This bi-partisan legislation focuses on at least six major courses of action, with the reduction of recidivism being one of the most important ones.

However, a country with such high rates of recidivism cannot just sit and wait for the Governmental actions to take effect and, in fact, some people are taking strides to help lower these numbers. Dawn Freeman, President and CEO of the Securus Foundation, is someone that plays an important role in this cause.

In fact, Freeman believes this to be her mission, after herself having problems with justice at an early age. Although she was never actually committed, incarceration has surrounded her, as her brother has been in jail and other family members work in law enforcement or correctional facilities.

The Securus Foundation was created with the specific purpose of helping the reentry process of previously incarcerated people, so that recidivism can be reduced across the United States. One of the things this foundation does is to work with the multiple entities that are somehow connected with these individuals to share information among them, to help empower these individuals in their return to (hopefully) normal life.

Another great action of the Securus Foundation is the creation of workshops called REAL (Reaching Self-Awareness, Empowerment, Accountability, and Legacy), which brings together individuals coming out of the judicial system with members of the foundation. Because these members also have similar experiences, whether lived by themselves or by someone close to them, their experiences and successes are more meaningful and impactful than they would otherwise be if taught by someone who does not have personal experience with incarceration.

These changes are happening in the United States and, while they will probably take some time to produce real effects, a paradigm shift seems to be visible in the way our society approaches the problem.

For example, instead of discussing prison security or punishment techniques, as was common, today prison authorities spend more time discussing the humane treatment of prisoners to favor rehabilitation, the impact of harsh treatment on prisoners and jailers alike or report small success stories.

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