How to Reform Hardened Criminals: Lessons from Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons

Dear readers,

Okay, before you all try to pull the retribution shields out, I want to make you guys look carefully at the world’s toughest prisons on Netflix. Watch this show, and it is amazing. Rafael Row, a journalist from the United Kingdom, went around the globe and voluntarily locked himself up in places like Lahora Forma in Costa Rica, Priova Prison in Romania, and even Halden Prison in Norway. Rafael discovered something important.

In Colombia, Costa Rica, and many other countries in the world, including the United States, people think that if you do the crime, you should be locked up and the key thrown away. However, there is a huge dynamic problem in a lot of these prisons. For example, Row spent a week at one of Romania’s toughest prisons, surrounded by Roma Gypsies, akin to something he might see with our African Americans. There are many African American and Hispanic drug kingpens and dealers, but the big problem isn’t with the people. It’s the system that fails them. Gypsies in the Romanian prison are often angry at the racial stats in such a place. Their culture is not quite peaceful, and includes early arranged child marriages, but there are too many Gypsy men in that prison flooding the population. Our prison system, however, could learn a few things from Norway’s prison system, which focuses entire efforts on rehabilitating inmates.

Yes, you might be thinking, but that child molester! That bank robber! Okay, but if you give these folks aggression, that’s what you’ll get back. In the Norwegian prison I watched, Rafael was treated respectfully by the guards, even upon entrance. Even when he was disruptive, he wasn’t stabbed, beaten, or choked by the guards. Geez, are you listening, government bureaucracy? The prison guards should respect and treat the inmates as human beings, and have their cells in basic clean conditions!

This may sound completely radical, I know, but perhaps some of those things in the normality principle could go a long way in treating child molesters. For example, Maria and Armand treated Rafael Row as if he were equal. They did the same with the inmates at their prison. THe results show that recidivism rates are at a very low, wait for it, 30%. For sex offenders, this could be a big break in our system.

Suppose we reform our prison system, and actually rehabilitated criminals, especially juvenile offenders. What should this look like? Here’s a plan, based on the conditions I observed in this docuseries.


  1. All inmates and guards should be treated and treat each other as equals. Greetings and interaction go a long way, even a smile speaks volumes.
  2. Inmates should be given basics, of course, not so much Internet and cell phones, but basics such as personal privacy in a unit, let’s not say it’s a cell, and a bed. They should also be given a chance to take responsibility for themselves and the community around them.
  3. Female prisoners should be allowed to give birth unshackled. Period. And they should be given free pads and tampons, things they will need anyway in the outside world.
  4. Inmates should never be forced to work for subminimum wages, but should be given incentives like they do in Halden. And they should be assessed for their skills and abilities while in prison. They could do any number of things, including train dogs for service, culinary programs, carpentry, plumber’s apprenticing and certifications, a myriad of jobs would abound. Prisoners should have access to decent and never substandard food.
  5. This leads me to ask, prison grub? Well, the prison inmates should cook for themselves at least once or twice a day, then go to the kitchens for some decent, not substandard grub. That means the food should be safe to eat, not expired garbage.
  6. Drugs and alcohol should never be allowed in prison, of course.
  7. All inmates should be required to go to therapy for the specific actions they end up with. Sex offenders should be treated as other inmates are treated, but by this plan, they should be learning coping skills and mechanisms so that they don’t reoffend. Part of this in the next item.
  8. Guards should talk to inmates more. Developing relationships, just as demonstrated in Halden, helped a hardened killer find some new ground. So what if you think the guy that killed a friend of yours is “too far gone”? By the Normality Principle, he isn’t. A female who might have committed the same crimes should be subject to the same treatments, and with male guards working with them on boundaries and respect issues. No male guard should ever openly be having sexual relations with female inmates, just their wives and such as that. Female inmates should know that the guards have what’s best for them in mind.
  9. This leads to another thought. While America over incarcerates black people, Romania and Hungary over incarcerate Roma, and then there are other countries that allow overincarceration of indigenous groups to go unchecked, we should treat all inmates, black and white, as equals. We should have a campaign on the outside to stop racial prejudices because the de facto segregation, both with Jim Crow 2.0 and Jane Crow version 1.5, if I may call it that, harm and humiliate black men and women. Just for being with someone who’s black in my civilian life gets me trolled on here. But the best thing to do is ask yourself, what the hell made this person do it? The trolls and haters who send me hateful comments about my black significant other/fiancee exhibit a much greater problem in miniature. Racial discrimination is alive and well.
  10. Life sentences without parole and death should never be considered. By Norway’s Normality Principle, all hardened criminals, the Ted Bundies, the Ken Bianchis, and so many others could have benefited from a second chance. To dispose of the body and soul of anyone is tantamount to doing the opposite, especially in the case of Jokhar Sarnaev. That guy might have bombed the Boston Marathon, but we should have said, let’s give the guy some meds, reeducate him so that he doesn’t reoffend, and then we can address the root of the problem. In Sarnaev’s case, it is plausible that he may want to throw his Muslim upbringing or inspiration into the trash, never to write a bloodstained note on a boat again. Life sentences are not deterrent enough to keep us law abiding people out of prison. They only serve to waste taxpayer money.

What should have been done in the case of the Aurora Theater shooting? Well, Mr. Holmes was mentally ill. The radical registration thoughts that people had about mentally ill people won’t stop them from either becoming targets or targeting others.

What about disabled inmates? Well, working hand in hand with state agencies, I think disabled inmates can do the same things within reason as a non disabled inmate.

What I learned from Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons is just one thing: the only way to put peace and love back in our society is to change our attitudes towards prison inmates and teach the most hardened folks that it is okay to be angry, but not to commit crimes. Sex offenders may never be able to be in contact with children again, especially the pedophiles, but we should still teach them that their actions harm others. Period. Child molesters should be given a chance to reform, go out into society, and not ideally have to go back. Perhaps the way sex offenders are viewed should be changed a bit. Registration should still be there, and certain ones should not babysit or watch children or be with others who have children. Part of a safety plan involves coping mechanisms such as not being around the victim or potential victims. However, being beat up in a prison by guards is not real retribution. Punishment is punishment no matter what, but the goal of any real consequence should be that the person never again makes the same mistake that got him or her there in the first place.

Author: denverqueen

My name is Beth. I'm blind from birth and enjoy the blogging atmosphere. I am a creative person, a musician, a writer, etc. This is me. Take it or leave it.

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