DENMARK:MAKING A MARK IN THE BLEAK WORLD OF PRISONSThe philosophy of the Danishprison system lies in the Theory of Rehabilitation.
It aim is to solve the reasonsthat led a person to commit the crime than on punishing the crime itself. Itworks towards reintegrating criminals back into society rather than making themoutcasts like other prison systems. In fact, Danish prisoners with sentencesless than five year sentences live in open prisons, which typically lack evenwalls among other features associated with prisons around the world. Prisonersin Denmark attend classes, work a standard Danish week (37 hours) and even shopand cook. Married couples are allowed to live together too1! You’d expect such laxregulations to make for an abysmal prison system where prisoners don’t changeat all and crimes rates in the country are extremely high. However, Denmark hasonly 59 prisoners for every 100,000 residents, while countries like the UnitedStates of America, have 730.
2 Denmark also has arecidivism rate of just 27% (Recidivism is the tendency of a criminal toreoffend i.e. go back to prison) which is one of the lowest in the world(Compared to 52% in the USA).3 Making us ask an evenbigger question- Are the best prisonssupposed to be prisons at all?The Danish system also givesout very short sentences compared to other countries with the average sentenceat 6 months whereas only 2 per cent of sentences are over two years. No walls,small sentences, prisoners wearing their own clothes and cooking their ownmeals- one would be wary that the prison system is too soft.
However in 2014,only one prisoner escaped from a Danish prison with a secured perimeter and ofthe 60,000 prison leaves that are granted each year in the prison system, veryfew (only 3%) either violate the terms of release or do not return to prison.4 Violence is also rare inDanish prisons. There were three suicides and five other deaths due to otherreasons in the entire system combined compared to 4,446 deaths in in U.
S prisonfacilities.5Everything that we have spoken of above proves that the Danish system has beensuccessful and should be emulated everywhere. However with such a system alsocome high economic costs. What are the costs associated with maintaining the Danishprison system?As per the annual report of theprison and probationary service in Denmark, the total operational expenditureis approx. DKK 3 billion (~3,600 crore rupees). The expenses are highest inclosed state prisons such as the Storstrøm Prison where the daily cost ofaccommodating a prisoner averages DKK 1,928 (~20471 rupees).
The cost of thefamous open state prisons is DKK 1,131(~12,000 rupees) and local prisonsis DKK 1,086(~11,531 rupees). The already high costs are further outmatched ina few prisons such as the Vridsløselille Prison in Albertslund which solelyhouses foreign criminals and hosted an average of 44.8 inmates in 2016 costs3,794 DKK (~40,000 rupees) per inmate per night which is surely more expensivethan staying in any five star property anywhere in the world6.(For example, a night at the ‘Superior Guestroom’ at D’Angleterre on KongensNytorv, the best hotel in Denmark costs 3,250 DKK (~34,500 rupees) and a nightat Taj Hotel in Mumbai costs 11,000 rupees). This expenditure has not been doneonly towards giving the prisoners extra benefits but been used towardseducating and training the prisoners so that they can have a normal lifestyleeven after prison. In 2011, DKK 122 million was allotted to increaseeducational efforts towards inmates. Similar efforts have been made towards jobcreation, reduction of drug use, counselling, etc.
The cost annually per inmate in Denmark came to $104,301which was much higher than even the OECD average of $69,319 and developedcountries with many more prisoners such as the United Kingdom and United Statesof America which stood at $63,214 and $43,210 respectively. Thus begging thequestion whether such a model is duplicable in a country like India or not. What have been the other costs and benefits to Danishsociety by following such a model?The Danish philosophy ofprisons is one of “Normalization” i.e. to create an environment as closelyresembling outside life as possible that they will ideally return to andfunction in. Instead of adding to the agony to the lives of the people who havebeen incarcerated, it aims to simply curb crime and help them get back tonormal society. This has given exceedingly positive results.
The recidivismrate in open prison is close to 19% right now and very few people don’t findjobs because they were incarcerated at some point7. There are few cases ofviolence within prisons and Denmark sees one of the lowest crime rates in theworld. However, a hidden cost of attempting to maintain the dignity of theprisoners is that minor crimes go unnoticed.
For example, since guards aren’tallowed to inspect visitors, a lot of drugs enter the prison compoundsunnoticed. Furthermore, in 2013, a person from the country’s highest securityprison once simply wore a burqa of a visitor and left the facilities. He hasstill not been found8. The Danish system is fullof such imperfections which the management has now come to accept in light ofthe amazing results that this system has shown. However an important questionto ask is whether there is causationbetween this system and low recidivism rates or simply correlation asDenmark is a country with very low poverty, low Gini coefficient and one of thebest social security systems. Should the Government use tax payers’ money to run prisons?Absolutely, evidence shows that a significantreduction in prison population actually tends to be associated to spikes incrime rate.
As can be seen in the graph below in Denmark itself there is anegative correlation between total police recorded offences and prisonpopulation9.Furthermore, like the Danish model teaches us, every person is allowed to makemistakes including the prison services themselves; it’s about how you correctthat mistake and move on that matters. If a model like this one is implementedeverywhere, it will lead to low recidivism rates and make the expenditure bythe government on its own citizens who have made a mistake- absolutely worthit.
Committing a crime doesn’t isolate you from humanity neither does itrestrict the governments’ responsibility of taking care of its citizens. 1 https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/the-danish-prison-system2 http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/denmark3 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3036450.stm4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/02/denmark-doesnt-treat-its-prisoners-like-prisoners-and-its-good-for-everyone/?utm_term=.f19f82e8d2e25 http://www.newsweek.com/us-jail-and-state-prison-deaths-have-increased-mortality-cops-police-3595106 http://cphpost.dk/news/danish-prison-more-expensive-that-luxury-hotel.html7 https://impact.vice.com/en_us/article/d3dabz/adopting-denmarks-unorthodox-prison-system-could-benefit-ex-offenders-in-america8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/02/denmark-doesnt-treat-its-prisoners-like-prisoners-and-its-good-for-everyone/9 https://www.conservativehome.com/thinktankcentral/2010/12/significant-reductions-in-prison-populations-tend-to-be-associated-with-spikes-in-crime-rates.html