Too many prisons make bad people worse. There is a better way

“DO YOU want a coffee?” It is a chilly morning on the ferry to Bastoy, an island prison in Norway. Two burly ferrymen greet a visiting journalist with a hot drink. Asked if they work for a local ferry company, they reply: “No, we are prisoners.” One is serving 14 years for attempted murder. The other, nine years for “drugs and violence”. The ferry is moored and there is no one around. Either man could easily make a run for it. But neither does. Hardly anyone tries to escape from Bastoy.

It has been called the “world’s nicest prison”, but this misses the point. The rooms are pleasant enough. The inmates can wander where they like on the island, go cross-country skiing in the winter and fish in the summer. So long as they keep it tidy they can enjoy the beach (see picture). Yet what is most unusual about Bastoy is not that it treats prisoners like human beings, but that it treats them like adults.

Prisons in other parts of the world try to stop inmates from laying hands…

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