More former prisoners are reoffending than ever before. We reveal the latest efforts to break the cycle in the first episode of our new Economist Films series.
Subscribe NOW to The Economist: http://econ.st/1Fsu2Vj
Huntsville Texas - more prisoners have been executed in this penitentiary than any other jail in the United States. From murderers to petty criminals, thousands more languish behind bars for decades. Reoffending is one of the greatest challenges facing justice systems worldwide. But could it be that prisons themselves are at the heart of this global problem?
Families of the inmates have an anxious wait across the road from the penitentiary, but for the prisoners their first taste of freedom can be overwhelming. They have little to help them start a new life. They're given $50 on release, a shirt, trousers, and a pair of shoes. Those lucky enough to have the support of families head for home, the others have to fend for themselves. Olly Matthews has been in and out of prison since he was 16.
These released prisoners are all on parole. Those with no fixed address or family are sent to halfway houses all over Texas. The odds are stacked against these men. In many countries more than half of ex-prisoners are back behind bars before long. But there's one country that's taking a very different approach. This is Norway's Bastøy prison, nestled in the oslofjord a short boat ride from the nearest town. This island is home to 115 inmates, all convicted of serious crimes from drug trafficking to murder but this is no Alcatraz. Bastøy is a flagship example of Norway's liberal approach to justice. All of the inmates have been transferred from locked prisons and will spend up to three years here in preparation for release.
From the ferry service to the farm, carpentry to butchery, the island is mostly self-sufficient and run by the prisoners. In their work they have access to potentially lethal tools. A fact that doesn't seem to concern the employed head chef.
One of the islands longest-serving prisoners is Hans Petter Hansen - he's on an 18-year stretch, the last two of which have been spent here. He leads the prison's blues band.
Norway's liberal attitude to justice has been mocked as an oddball social experiment but it is getting results. In the United States reoffending rates are 77%. In Norway it's 20% - an international benchmark helped by prisons like Bastøy, which has a reoffending rate of just 16%.
It takes more than statistics to shift decades of global consensus on punishment, especially in countries where talking tough on crime wins votes.
The United States is feeling the full impact of decades of hardline policies. Although the country has only 5% of the world's population it has 25% of the world's prison population.
In a career spanning 30 years, Texan judge Bobby Frances has convicted his fair share of criminals. In the 90s he was gaining a reputation for being a no-nonsense judge but he soon realized that he wasn't getting the results he wanted. Judge Frances now runs a very different type of courtroom. It's turning back a centuries-old hardline approach to punishment in a bid to bring down the cost of criminal justice. This court deals with serial offenders who have already been convicted but instead of serving another long prison stretch, they've spent up to nine months in a prison reform facility before being released into a rehabilitation program. Each week they face the unique justice of Judge Francis.
When Judge Francis started his re-entry court in 2001 there were just a few in Texas - now there are nearly 250. In that time the state incarceration rate has fallen by 16 percent.
Four hours after being released from prison Olly Matthews has arrived in Houston but he's already lost his money and some important documents. Worldwide there are ten million prisoners like Olly - most of them have inadequate preparation or support when they're released. Olly heads across town to the halfway house where he'll have a bed for the next few days. The challenge for justice systems in any country is keeping offenders out of prison for good. Until rehabilitation is put at the heart of justice systems approach to punishment they'll continue to fail offenders, fail victims and fail societies.
Economist Films expresses The Economist’s globally curious outlook in the form of short, mind-stretching documentaries.
To watch more visit http://www.economist.com/films
Get more from The Economist
Follow us: https://twitter.com/TheEconomist
Like us: https://www.facebook.com/TheEconomist
View photos: https://instagram.com/theeconomist/
The Economist videos give authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science, technology and the connections between them.