California Adopts the Scandinavian Prison Model

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By D. Razor Babb

California is rethinking the purpose of prison, and has devoted $20 million toward reinventing San Quentin Prison into a Scandinavian model of incarceration. The L.A. Times reports that by 2025 the state’s most infamous prison will evolve into the “largest center of rehabilitation, education, and vocational training in the California prison system, and maybe the nation.”

The plan includes job training for six-figure paying jobs like plumbing, electricians, and truck driving. Governor Newsom said in an interview with the Times that the plan for San Quentin is “not just about reform, but about innovation,” a chance to “hold ourselves to a higher level of ambition and look to completely re-imagine what prison means.”

That includes creating new pathways to safer communities that the current system has failed to do. US recidivism rates remain high, and disproportionate jailing of people of color is systemic. The Scandinavian approach is more about turning people into good neighbors than punishment and warehousing.

More than 30,000 California prisoners are released annually. The current system of mass incarceration built on a culture of fear, intimidation, and control perpetuates the cycle of violence most prisoners grew up in and have normalized in criminal thinking and maladaptive behavior. The Scandinavian model teaches empathy, compassion, emotional intelligence, and focuses on humanity.

Newsom asks, “Do you want them coming back (home) with humanity and some normalcy, or do you want them coming back more bitter and beaten down?”

Given the choice and provided the tools, most people would choose to live humanely and free.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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