Norway, Oslo, Nashville discussed on Fresh Air


From the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. This is fresh air. We're speaking with Christine mantra. She's a clinical psychiatrist, and she has a new book about the damage prison life does to mental health and how things might change. It's called waiting for an echo the madness of American incarceration. You know, one of the things I could imagine people saying as well, Maybe this works in Norway. But America US society is so different. Norway is thought of as being more ethnically homogeneous and probably Having fewer inequities in the distribution of wealth and income so that you don't have these huge, terribly poor, struggling communities, which make it the harder sometimes for people to rebuild their lives when they get out of prison. 100. What about that our Scandinavian countries just in a better position to undertake this kind of change? Well, there's no question that Scandinavian countries they're smaller than America. Right. There's no there's no question about that. But to me it was very interesting to think about Scandinavian countries compared to American states. And the reality is that prison business is conducted really on a state by state level, so policy decisions about state jails and prisons are really made within the states, so you can see quite a bit of difference from one state to the next In terms of Prison conditions, prison policies, sentencing trends, all those kinds of things. So it was useful to me to begin to think about how the experiment of prison approach like that in Norway could be transferred. To our states. And so that was one of the frames that I used to think about those very differences that you raise and again, I found those differences to be somewhat overblown. So as an example The population of Norway is around 5.3 million people, so that puts it just smaller than Colorado and Minnesota just larger than South Carolina and Alabama. So you know, in the realm of state of our states, the population of Oslo is similar to the population of Nashville. Numbers lies. Um, So then I said, when I saw that, I thought, all right, so let's compare American city to Norwegian City and I looked really closely at the demographics between Oslo and Nashville. Nashville is 60%. White. Oslo is 70% native Norwegian. That's not a gigantic difference. The other 30% of Norwegians are Either immigrants are were born. Two immigrants in the major ethnic groups that make up that 30% are Pakistani and Somali, not light skins. Norwegian people is I think we so often imagine, and they're also immigrants from many other countries in the region. Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Morocco, the Philippines. And maybe one of the things that was most interesting to me, is that 40% of the kids in Oslo primary schools speak a language other than Norwegian as their first language. So I think when we have an idea of Scandinavian communities as these very homogeneous communities that really differ a great deal from our own. I think that that is perhaps an antiquated view. You know, they're Racial and ethnic divisions within American prisons are off often. Pronouncement. People may join gangs or form cliques among people that share their ethnicity or race. Does that happen in the prisons in Norway? That's such a prominent discussion. In American prisons. It's a real problem that has brought up over and over again. There certainly talking about how the country is adapting to these shifting representation of different ethnic minorities within the Norwegian community, and that you absolutely are seeing people who are starting to question some of the closely held tenets of Socialism that you know, provide benefits to people in the country. Some of those there are issues of racism that are beginning to emerge in the country for sure, But I heard about those conversations much more as a part of the cultural conversation and I didn't hear about them within prison populations. We're at a time when there's more of an appetite for criminal justice reform than we've seen in a long time. You know, states and local governments run a lot of prisons and jails. Do you see places where Different approaches. Different models maybe tried or are being tried. Definitely There are their projects going on around the country where people are beginning to look at these very issues, and in fact, there's been a fantastic program out of California that is taking groups of Legislators and also prison correctional officers and wardens to visit European prisons that are having better outcomes and part of this has been aimed at an effort to reduce the use of solitary confinement in American prisons. Solitary confinement is a practice that we think of as reducing violence and promoting security. In fact, when we look at the numbers, that's not the case, we don't have the outcomes from solitary confinement that that It would justify its use. Given how damaging a practice it is. And so this group in California is taking the stakeholders over to visit prisons in Germany prisons like Holden in Norway to try to show them How alternative methods are working, and so that they can see firsthand the environment. How the practices are implemented and how the outcomes are better not just for the prisoners, but also for the people who work in these conditions. You know, one of the one of the things I learned. I'm working here in Rhode Island, which is a very insular, tiny little state with a very, very long institutional memory. And so you have people who are working as correctional officers in the prisons, who, if a correction officer was killed by an inmate 10 or 20 years ago? They're still correctional officers working in the prisons who remember that incident and use that incident is justification to continue the practice of solitary confinement because of that risk that the of the situation that happened many many years ago. And that's you know, justifiable fear, of course, when we're asking people Teo to take on these dangerous jobs, but but one of the things that this group.

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