A new prison reform initiative modeled after incarceration strategies used in Germany and Norway is being tested in six states.
North Dakota, Colorado and Idaho have joined the “Restoring Promise” initiative in what organizers have called an effort to “disrupt and transform the living and working conditions inside American prisons and jails.” The three states join Connecticut, Massachusetts and North Carolina in an effort created by the Vera Institute of Justice and MILPA Collective, a California-based nonprofit led by formerly incarcerated people.
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The new initiative aims to “repurpose” existing housing units in selected prison facilities with input from those who are incarcerated themselves. The program replaces traditional rigid prison discipline with more open settings. According to The Crime Report, Germany, Norway and some other European nations have used similar approaches to detain young adult offenders (aged 18-25) and adult prisoners based on the nature of their original offense and their potential for a successful return into civilian society.
After senior U.S. corrections officials toured the European facilities several years ago, they were motivated to rethink how they ran their jails and have since implemented more prison reform initiatives.
“Bringing the Restoring Promise Initiative to (North Dakota)…helps revive a sense of purpose—not only to our staff, but to our residents,” said Leann Bertsch, director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in a statement accompanying the announcement.
“It is an important step in living out our mission to provide opportunities for growth and to help young people thrive when they reenter their communities.”
The numbers of senior state prison officials who have signed on to the prison reform continues to grow and receive rave reviews from both inmates and prison staff.
“We know that the key to reducing the recidivism rate in Colorado is to improve the culture inside the prison, both for those who are incarcerated, and for the staff who work inside the walls every day,” said Dean Williams, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
“With 95 percent of incarcerated individuals returning to our communities at some point, providing programs that focus on rehabilitation and redemption not only improves prison safety, but also increases public safety as well.”
A key component of the program is assigning older mentors to young adults where they assist them in setting new behavioral goals and restore broken relationships with families and the communities they left behind.