Progressive voices long ago characterized America’s penal system as a failure. However, in recent years, even a few button-down conservative, law-and-order types have grudgingly acknowledged the need for change. Of course, they don’t sign on to so-called “bleeding heart” concerns about human rights. But they do express alarm about the dollars and cents required to warehouse human beings with no financial return.
Texas lawyer Marc Levin, who helped establish the organization Right on Crime has asked, “How is it ‘conservative’ to spend vast amounts of taxpayer money on a strategy without asking whether it is providing taxpayers with the best public safety return on their investment?”
In his essay “The Conservative Case for Jail Reform,” Arthur Rizer of the conservative think tank R Street Institute writes, “Incarceration separates offenders from their families, which increases rates of homelessness and single parenthood. Approximately 17 million children are currently being raised without a father, a growing social problem that only perpetuates cycles of violence and crime.”
While Rizer and other conservatives have defaulted to “family values” as a reason for concern, true conservatives have to acknowledge the immorality of corporate exploitation of warehousing humans. Specifically, conservative rhetoric decries welfare and other forms of government assistance for individuals. Nevertheless, some corporations have shamelessly looked to government to feed them a guaranteed, steady diet of people to populate their private prisons. Some corporations have also relied on government to cut their labor costs by providing access to prisoners as low-paid or unpaid workers.
Many believe that not only are the prison systems in Scandinavia the best thing going, but the Scandinavian way of doing things may also be the best option for the U.S. Norway attracts special attention because recidivism rates in that country are among the lowest in the world. Only 20% of those released from Norwegian prisons are arrested within the next two years. Compare that to the U.S. where approximately 68% of formerly incarcerated persons are arrested within three years.
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