Artigo escrito por Duarte Fonseca originalmente publicado aqui na newsletter semestral beyond the wall da ICPA.

In a world with Internet 5G, Industry 4.0 and Web 3.0, I always feel surprised when realizing that we are still using the Version 1.0 of the Prison System. This system was designed and implemented 250 years ago with the principles of Mr. Cesare Beccaria, considered the father of modern Criminal Law and the father of Criminal Justice.

The main reason why I see this happening is that most people are not willing to invest in prisons, as they feel prisons are places inhabited by bad people without any possibility of recuperation and who deserve to suffer. This is a very emotional reaction, which is completely normal as human beings. Revenge reactions and emotions are playing their part here.

Surprisingly, and contrary to what would be expected, in the evolution of mankind we were able to suppress severl emotional reactions through rational decisions, as we understood they were not correct and were not the evolution path we would like to follow. Take as an example the strong social movements around climate change we are seeing nowadays. Emotionally, why would we change from disposable diapers to reusable diapers? Why to suppress and eliminate the usage of plastic bags when they are cheaper and very practical? Only by rationality we understand we must preserve the world for the next generations.

We are witnessing these changes as we become aware that our actions may have a negative impact in the world and society we imagine for tomorrow. It is a matter of survival. As a society, we collectively evolve in the way we think, feel and live the world.

From a surviving point of view, we no longer need to incarcerate people for life, use death penalty or resort to revenge punishment or retribution. Most of the countries in the world have already understood this. Looking, for example, at the Portuguese Penal Law we can see that it already mirrors that understanding.

It is a matter of survival

To take this step forward, as a society, we need to understand the importance of prisons.

Typically, we are led to think that “I would never commit a crime”, and therefore would never be placed in a prison. That is, however, the first assumption we must deconstruct, since the line between committing or not committing a crime is not so great that we cannot overtake it for some reason one day. The second assumption we must disarm is the idea that, since we will never commit a crime, we are not “clients” of the Prison System, and therefore we do not want to invest in it. This assumption deserves a more reasoned argument. In fact, as members of our communities, we must understand that we are clients of the Penitentiary System, as much as we are of the Education and Health Systems, for example. Prisons exist to protect us, and so we are the primary clients of the Prison System, although we are not the main users.

If we convince ourselves that we are the main clients of the Prison System, we have the right to demand better prisons. The main question is: what kind of prisons do we want? Do we want to maintain the version 1 or do we want a possibly better second version? I believe no one wants prisons in version 1 because they are expensive, and their results are very poor. The recidivism rate is over 70% in almost all Prison Systems. Transposing this to Health and Education Systems, it would be the same as having 70% of the patients in hospitals dying, or 70% of children attending schools not learning to read or write. I am sure we would not pay for services with that kind of results, and we would demand a better second version.

Looking beyond the wall and using technological terminology, different prototypes of the “Prison 2.0” system are being tested in various parts of the world, which have shown very interesting results that do look promising. Of course, a prototype sometimes has bugs, and generally creates resistance to change by different stakeholders, especially those who have used the previous version and are more familiar with it.

In this article, I would like to present two examples of prototypes “Prison 2.0” and in the end summarize some common features that they have:

APAC Prisons – Brazil:

Paradoxically, one of the most human and innovative models I know of was born in Brazil.

As we all know, Brazil is not very famous for its prisons. These prisons, co-administered by the state and by local NGOs, have a 20% rate of recidivism (much lower than the rate of 85% in the common Prison System) and cost only 1/3 when compared to the traditional Brazilian system.

The APAC prisons have a strong holistic methodology based on human valuation and on the relationship between all stakeholders. The fundament of Psychology is that “behavior begets behavior” and therefore positive and constructive behavior generates positive and constructive behavior.

Positive and constructive behavior generates positive and constructive behavior

One of the key features of these prisons is the co-management system designed in a way that prisoners have a voice and, in some cases, may even make decisions alongside with the staff and the community volunteers. Another characteristic is the mantra: “here enters the man, the crime stays outside”. Conversations about their past life and their crimes are prohibited (unless in group therapy), and volunteers cannot, for example, ask what their crime was.

Currently, only in the state of Minas Gerais, there are more than 50 of these penitentiaries, which have a maximum of 200 prisoners separated by 3 criminal regimes in a progressive and regressive system. It is much harder to live in an APAC prison because all prisoners need to study, work, take care of the “house” and care for the community (local community and family). This is real life, but as Scott Peck said in ‘The Road Less Traveled’, “Life is difficult”.

It is also important to conclude that the APAC model complements the traditional system and will not replace all prisons because it needs motivated prisoners who apply and are willing to participate in the program. It also takes a strong community, prepared and willing to host a prison in your yard – and we are all familiarized with the NIMBY expression (Not I My Backyard).

This model was recently recognized by the World Economic Forum, and I invite you to watch THIS short video.

T.R.U.E. Program – United States

Inspired by a German program, a high security prison in Conneticut is testing, in one Unit, a program that stands for Truth, Respect, Understanding and Elevating for Success.

Inmates must apply to participate in the program and the prison staff is integrated with detainees all the time, they talk, play and work together as a community. They spend all day out of the cells, spending it with classes, counseling and group therapies. It is an intense program which, like the APAC model, is sometimes harder to live on because inmates are expected to work on their self-development and find out where their emotional weaknesses lie.

One of the most interesting facts is that inmates sentenced to life in prison without parole are, in many cases, the mentors of the program. And why? Because everyone wants to have a meaning and purpose in life, and even those who have nothing to aspire or nothing to lose are willing to help and work when others trust them.

There is a small documentary that went on the show ’60 Minutes’, which I really encourage you to watch HERE.

I brought, on purpose, two examples with different scales and stories, one with more than 40 years and the other created very recently. Also, one has proven results and the other has results to be proven yet. This means that there are places and countries willing to test new approaches; that it is possible to test new ways of doing things; that every country in the world can safely, and in controlled environments, test the “Prisons 2.0” system.

There are many more examples in the world to reinforce the argument, such as the Módulos de Respeto in Spain, the R.I.S.E Program (Rehabilitation in Society) in Malta, the C.E.C. Houses (“Comunità Educante con i Carcerati”) in Italy and the Bastoy Prison in Norway, just to mention some of which I am familiar with in Europe.

There are some common features of these “Prisons 2.0” that are key to understand their amazing results:

Community based (Volunteers or other organizations involved): They are open to the society. Local communities go to prison, interact with their users, and prepare to welcome them back into the community. NGOs, companies and other institutions are involved during all the process and not only upon release.

Small Scaled: This means they are smaller than the usual “Prisons 1.0”, they reverse the logic of incarceration “warehouses” that are being built around the world only by economic reasons. In fact, small scale may be cheaper than large prisons if the system is designed to use and interact with other systems already deployed in the surrounding communities. Complex problems need complex and collaborative systems to attack the roots of the problem.

Decision Making Training: All these prototypes place the inmates at the center of their routine. They can make real decisions that influence the daily life of the prison. They are trained to make good choices in life, making real decisions within the prison (their current life). We, as a society, expect them to make good decisions when they return to society, but our Prison System 1.0 is not designed to train them to do so, they just follow rules and routines that are mandatory for security reasons.

Peer Support: They have self-managed peer support groups, where inmates are cruelly honest with each other. Being able to provide constructive feedback, as well as receiving and listening to comments (even when we do not agree) is an art we are missing out on in the world. Thus, getting inmates to do this with each other is just an incredible step and tool for them to reach higher states of self-development and self-awareness.

Progressive System based on Meritocracy: All have different phases until the parole period that are achieved on the basis of their own merit and self-development, rather than by risk assessment scores, types of crimes or time already served. Also, they are regressive, a prisoner may lose previously earned rights if he fails to comply with previously defined rules (drug and cell phone use, verbal and physical abuse, lack of punctuality for daily tasks and enrolled activities, etc.). Because these examples are based on small detention units, staff, volunteers, guards and peers can much better assess their merit.

Trust as an instrument: We cannot define others by their past, otherwise we would never trust people in general. Trust is one of the key features of the rehabilitation process. When inmates feel that others trust them, 9 out of 10 want to be worthy of the trust placed in them and show that they deserve that trust.

Love as an instrument: They all use love as a way to create true and positive relationships among everyone involved in the system. In some cases, such as the STAR Program or the Bastoy Prison, guards (the ones who spend the most time with them and who most influence their behavior) are those who show that love and peaceful paths are a way to make a better life integrated into communities. It is important to state that treating others with love does not mean that we are not strict and demanding with them or that there is not an absolute discipline in the unit. Nowadays it seems that we are afraid to talk about love, it seems like a fluffy and cheesy conversation, but the truth is that we all look for meaningful relationships, which is why most psychotherapeutic approaches work exactly on the meaning and the way how we live our relationships.

Nowadays it seems that we are afraid to talk about love

Recently a movement called Rescaled Movement was launched in Brussels, which has these main pillars and that wants to gradually replace “Prisons 1.0” by these 2.0 versions.

In my opinion, several countries have made some mistakes in trying to implement some of these features, and then, when it does not work out, the reason is that detainees are “hopeless” or worse, discredit “Prison 2.0” prototypes. It is very important to keep in mind some aspects when implementing this type of solutions.

First, implementing one or two features without redesigning the system to function as a whole (with all features) does not move the needle in the right direction, and therefore there are no results that prove it works.

Second, implementing these resources in the same places and with the same staff that throughout their lives has become accustomed to a very specific way of working will not work. The solution involves mixing new employees with former staff and using experienced people from other systems, such as therapeutic communities for drug addicts.

Thirdly, in the case of doubts between safety and rehabilitation, safety generally prevails and wins, and it is best to leave the cells closed. In fact, Safety and Rehabilitation are two sides of the same coin, and the best safety is the rehabilitation, the relationship, and the trust used in the process.

It is time for change, we desperately need new ways of doing things, a serious reform of the criminal justice. Although we seek a sense of security in testing new approaches, if we do not test new solutions we will never have evidence to base our approaches on. We need political courage, strong leadership and people willing to change the paradigm of doing things to test new solutions, whether from other systems or from other countries.

That is why we, APAC Portugal, exist, because we believe it is possible to redesign the system and prove that “Prisons 2.0” will have better results and thus have safer communities and a more peaceful society, where no one is left behind, regardless of their crime or weakness.

We need political courage, strong leadership and people willing to change the paradigm of doing things