Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
|After my brief blog about German prisons, I double checked my information and every source said the same things. In addition to Germany, all Scandinavian countries have vastly different prison systems than the US. The following is a rather thorough look at those northern European systems of managing incidences of anti-social behavior:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/why-scandinavian-prison... There are several articles by The International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation explaining the changes in the past 50 years in these prison systems and the effects on the prisoners and the communities. One writer comments that one of the motivations for changing the systems was to reduce the negative health impact on guards and other prison workers. I learned that the average lifespan for a prison guard is 59 years in the US. There is a major difference in how decisions are made. Planning is based on scholarly research rather than political whims and popular opinion.
I am amazed at the difference in outcomes between the European prisons and US prisons. The Atlantic article delineates social forces that brought about the differences: racism, and withdrawal of social supports for the mentally ill. In addition, we Americans seem to think justice and punishment both require hurting the person who has broken the law. This, I believe, as a Social Worker, is deeply rooted in punitive child rearing practices and authoritarian educational institutions. In Europe, as in the US, law breakers are very likely to report very sad and abusive experiences during childhood. In Europe, people with symptoms are treated for their symptoms. In the US, people are punished for their symptoms.
The impression that strikes me hardest is the US refusal to listen to scholarship and research. There seems to be an increasing race to the bottom educationally. We hear that we are winning the race to the bottom on TV, but refuse to use what social scientists know to help solve the problem. I may have a couple of biases here: I happen to think of myself as a social scientist and I have been paid all my adult life for my services. I respect social science research and want to know what it can teach me. I can testify that I personally do a lot better when I am supported, encouraged and appropriately confronted about my mistakes, then given a chance to correct my direction. I assume I am pretty much like everyone else.
In paying attention to the news, I have seen a dramatic shift in US values in my lifetime. When I was a child, education was highly valued and respected. People wanted to know how to speak their own language appropriately and wanted to learn. Currently, I no longer hear the same respect for education. In fact, I hear people degrading education as if it is some sort of pathology. People built our educational system from nothing to the best in the world, then, let it slowly rot away. People talk about our education system as if it is the source of all of our problems and then undermine it instead of helping it get better. The thing that astounds me most is the cheering for people who say and do stupid things. Those doing the cheering say the things are stupid and say that is why they are cheering. This would be fine, but when they get hurt by the same stupidity, they shoot, or throw someone in jail in an arbitrary, unpredictable way, and erase any previous awareness of the good in the person from their minds.
I don’t mean to suggest these are universally true tendencies. I mean to say we are sliding down-hill because we make poorly reasoned and poorly informed choices. When they don’t work well, instead of doing something that research predicts might work better, we intensify the wrong thing as if that would fix the problem. I encourage everyone to spend an hour or two reading about European Prisons and then writing to get the word out. There are many people with power to help. They need to hear from informed people; not just the angry and stupid. We need to change.