Editorial: This Pennsylvania prison is taking initiative, others should follow suit


SCI- Chester, located in Delaware County, is looking to adopt methods used by Scandinavian prisons focusing on rehabilitation.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Within five years of release, more than three-quarters of former inmates in the United States are rearrested. The U.S. rate of recidivism is one of the highest in the world.

In an effort to make the Chester State Correctional Institution in Delaware County more humane and effective in rehabilitation rather than just punishment, a group of Pennsylvania correctional officers spent three weeks working in Norweigan, Swedish and Danish prisons. These countries maintain some of the lowest recidivism rates in the world while also remaining safe. Back in the U.S., the visiting officers will try to emulate techniques they observed and learned during their time abroad. These efforts are a major step forward for the U.S. justice system. We need to pay attention.

As Sweden, Norway and Denmark exhibit, recidivism rates don’t have to be as high as they are in the United States to ensure safety. Norway, which has a recidivism rate of 20% — one of the lowest in the world — was ranked the 16th safest country to visit by the Global Peace Index. Sweden was ranked 14 and Denmark was ranked four, and both countries also have low recidivism rates. For comparison, the United States didn’t even crack the top 30.

But in order to lower recidivism rates, inmates need to be rehabilitated during their sentence in order to one day be a functional and safe member of society. Of course, incarceration isn’t meant to be easy. And in countries with lower recidivism rates, incarceration isn’t fun. But its focus is on rehabilitation — taking away certain freedoms from prisoners while teaching them how to be functional members of society. The goal is to set the inmate up to have a successful life in civil society when their sentence is up.

SCI Chester aims to do exactly this, and SCI Chester Superintendent Marirosa Lamas said she believes that the pilot program will better serve justice to society and the inmate.

“Some folks believe that if we punish individuals, that if we make their conditions of confinement just horrendous, that they will have some atonement,” Lamas said. “Where is that supported by facts? It’s not.”

Another technique SCI Chester will try to implement is decompression. In their pilot program, randomly selected inmates live in singular cells, but are still given social interaction time. They will also have spaces to read books. This is to say that prisoners who are isolated and given little time and resources to cope with their emotions often struggle to maintain their mental and physical health both as inmates and functional, free members of society.

The U.S. prison system has a long way to go before, but SCI Chester’s initiative is a step in the right direction. Other prisons would be wise to follow suit.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this editorial mistakenly placed SCI Chester’s location in Chester County, not Delaware County. This piece has since been updated with the correct information. The Pitt News regrets this error. 

Leave a comment.