I am studying journalism and I'm writing a thesis about the predictable (general and individual) effect of punishment / prison sentences. I hope you have the opportunity to answer some questions in connection with this.
Do prison sentences have a deterrent effect on convicted prisoners? Or are many of them re-convicted again and again?
I think we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the deterrent effect is most effective for those who have never been in prison before.
Here in this prison, where the majority of inmates have been convicted for drug offences and crimes against property, the re-conviction rate is approx. 60%.
For more detailed statistics you may access this link here.
Otherwise the statistics show that 5% of all criminals are responsible for 80% of all crimes - so these persons visit us again and again. One interesting point is that if the re-conviction rate could be reduced by just 1% the community would save NOK 676 million per year.
Which initiatives have been introduced for so-called habitual criminals?
We have a dedicated department at this prison called "TOG", which specialises in offering initiatives for recurring offenders.
The manpower situation for TOG has been strengthened and there is a close co-operation between TOG and the Probation Service. They also have their own residence consultant that makes sure individual inmates have a place to live upon release from prison. We also focus on individual plans and work closely with groups responsible for coordinating all the different help agencies involved.
Does it work?
The TOG Department celebrated its first year of operations on 01.03.07, and so far the results have been positive. They have managed to find residences and jobs, or other occupational activities, to all inmates released from this department.
So far, none of the inmates have been recalled to prison as a result of new convictions, but it is too early to create meaningful statistics at this early stage.
In your opinion, do many inmates suffer from psychiatric problems, making it difficult for them to experience a "normal", law-abiding life?
There is clearly a higher degree of psychiatric problems here in prison than in the rest of the population at large. It is estimated that as many as 60-89% of the inmates suffer from one or other form of personality disturbance which makes correctional work difficult. The most normal diagnoses are AD (attention deficit) and HD (hyperactivity disorder) 30-40%, psychosis, anxiety and depressions.
Inmates with serious problems are transferred to psychiatric services, but we also have our own psychiatric casualty service here inside the prison that tries to help those who are able to cope with sentencing conditions.
Is it actually the case that offenders often have low education and bad living conditions in the community?
In 2004, a survey was conducted into living conditions among inmates. It showed that a significant proportion of them had problems in relation to central living condition categories, such as education, income, housing and health. Many of them had problems in several categories simultaneously, and there is a clear link between the accumulation of living condition problems and the instances where one has sat in prison on several occasions.
You may read the entire survey here.