Towards A Self Sufficient Prison Model Criminology Essay

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The cost of arresting and sentencing an offender has been calculated at $150,000, with every year spent in prison costing an additional $90,000 (Prison Fellowship New Zealand, 2012). In New Zealand there are over 8,000 prisoners incarcerated, the cost of housing inmates therefore totalling up to a substantial bill for the Government and taxpayers alike. Despite the millions of dollars being infiltrated into the correctional system, recidivism rates are still relatively high, with 44 % of people being released from prison, reoffending and being re-imprisoned within a three year period (Department of Corrections, 2009). Such figures are not unique to New Zealand, with the likes of the United States and United Kingdom facing larger overheads with similarly dissatisfying results in reducing reoffending. Quite contrastingly, in Nordic countries even an imperfect comparison suggests reoffending appears far less of a problem, with the overall reoffending rate over a two year period varying from the lowest in Norway at 20% to the highest in Sweden with 30% (Kristofferson, 2010). Due to variation in measuring methods between countries, caution must be taken in comparing these figures, but that aside one other possible explanation for lower reoffending rates in Nordic countries is the progressive and unique correctional methods which have been implemented there. Centred on openness, personal growth and ecology, the common aim is not to overtly punish but to focus on the rehabilitative needs of prisoners. Inspired by the particular success of Norway's self-sufficing prison Bastoy and with the goal of uncovering an alternative to the traditional closed and costly prison regimes, this paper will examine the concept of self-sufficient prisons. An investigation will be made into the history of prisons which have done or still do operate under a self-sufficient ethos and an analysis of the consequential benefits and/or potential disadvantages will be carried out. Throughout the paper in-depth consideration will also be given to any relationship which research has found to exist between a prison based on self-sufficient ideals and rehabilitation. Furthermore, in weighing up the findings reached from this investigation, the viability of self-sufficient prisons realistically operating in New Zealand will be explored and any possible limitations which could hinder their success will be acknowledged.

Self-sufficient prison model

When confronted with the phrase "self-sufficient prison", several different interpretations can be drawn as to what exactly this entails. Firstly, from an economic perspective the term self-sufficient prison represents a prison which operates with the primary goal of counteracting its running costs and even generating profits through inmate labour and production. A prison encapsulating this understanding often runs similarly to a traditional closed prison but inmates participate in working during their sentences, rather than simply idly passing the time away in cells. An example of this type of self-sufficiency can be seen at Louisiana State Penitentiary(Angola). Formed in 1835, this prison was based around the concept of inmates working and in 1880 an 8,000 acre plantation was bought to fulfil this ideal. Today, it is the biggest maximum security prison in the United States, it also has been designed on self-sufficient principles, being said to function as a small community with a canning factory, a dairy, a mail system, a small ranch, repair shops, and a sugar mill. Colloquially known as "the farm", it is situated on 18,000 acres, with approximately 5000 inmates whom work to produce enough food to support over 11,000 people throughout five different prisons in the State. The resources which come from the land are used for the benefit of inmates and benefit the community. Prison warden Bruce Cain describes the prison today by stating "we all work together. We're all one. Our resources are their resources." (Auzenne & Williams, 2010, p.1).

Another way to interpret prison self-sufficiency is to understand it as an environment where prisoners have the opportunity provide for themselves, within the compound of a supportive correctional facility. Although still attempting to offset financial costs, the focus of such a prison is on achieving a community like existence where inmates have an element of independence, enabling them to cook, clean, work and essentially be self-sufficient. In unison with the prisoner's self-sufficiency the prison would operate sustainably through adopting environmentally friendly practices which are in harmony with nature, impacting as little possible on its surrounds. This would involve energy efficient strategies being implemented such as the use of solar panels to provide hot water and heating, water conservation, reductions in transportation fuel use and high efficiency lightning and appliances. As well as that, recycling, composting and waste reduction would be of focus. Ultimately this understanding of the phrase "self-sufficient prison," can be defined as a correctional facility which seeks to reduce the human, environmental and economic costs of prison.

Currently, there is only one real example of a prison operating completely in line with this understanding of prison self-sufficiency. Located in Norway, on an island in the Oslo Fiord is Bastoy prison. Designed to operate as a small self-sufficient community this prison encompasses the spirit and meaning of self-sufficiency to the fullest. It not only has one of the lowest reoffending rates in the world at 16%, but is also the most cost efficient prison in the whole of Norway (Sutter, 2012). Housing up to 115 inmates, numerous buildings spread over a rural landscape and just as in any other community there is shop, library, information office, health services, church, school, NAV (government social services), dock and ferry service all located within the prison, for the inmates use. Each day inmates at Bastoy work between the hours of 8.30 am and 3.00 pm in one of various different work units, including ; the agricultural sector, the greenhouses, the forestry unit , seed and grass production, the kitchen, the shop, the maintenance unit, on the fishing boat or running the ferry. (Bastoy Prison, 2012). The work they do not only allows the prison to run self-sufficiently and earn the inmates a small wage, but it also fulfils their daily existence. Bastoy instils a sense of community, reality and independence, three aspects which are key to the rehabilitation of inmates.

Other aspects which separate Bastoy from traditionally run prisons and contribute to its self-sufficient existence include an absence of intimidation and scare mongering from guards, whom are unarmed and do not wear uniforms. Instead, guards are thoroughly trained to safely and purposefully interact with prisoners and just as the prisoners do, they become part of the Bastoy community. The prison is also committed to being environmentally sustainable. It is run under human-ecological values, farming is ecological, the prison handles most of its own rubbish, there is a constant focus on minimizing CO2-emissions and the buildings are heated from solar panels or the wood they grow and process themselves (Bastoy Prison, 2012). The current Governor of the prison is extremely dedicated to the self-sufficient methods instilled on the island, even living there himself. His passion is demonstrated in this quote where he states;

The prison is self-sustaining and as green as possible in terms of recycling, solar panels and using horses instead of cars. It means that the inmates have plenty to do and plenty of contact with nature - the farm animals, wildlife, the fresh air and sea. We try to teach inmates that they are part of their environment and that if you harm nature or your fellow man it comes back to you (Prison Governor, Arne Kvernvik Nilsen quoted in Hernu, 2011).

Some would say these are words of a man completely deranged. His views and methods of running a prison are the polar opposite to the traditional closed, harsh and costly regimes so commonly seen throughout westernised society. Regardless of opinion, one significant factor remains, this prison is working, in all sense of the meaning.

History of self-sufficiency and prisons

In 1787 Jeremy Bentham called for prisons to become "mills for grinding rogues honest and idle men industrious" (Reynolds, 1996). He was not alone in this way of thinking and across the United States incarceration came to be more and more industrious as prisons realised the value of the workforce they had at their disposal. In 1797, Newgate prison opened in New York City and successfully it recouped nearly all of its expenses during the first five years of the operation through prisoner production. The Auburn system named after another New York prison producing superior economic results, dominated U.S. prison culture from 1823. The basis of the Auburn system was to confine prisoners at night but have them come together and work during the day (Reynolds, 1996). For centuries the American prison system sought to function self-sufficiently and according to research conducted by Lyons (2012) the existence of prison farms acted not only as an economically viable way of sufficing prison populations, but also functioned as a disciplinary and rehabilitative work program crucial to the 19th century penitentiary. With the successes of working prisons also came criticism, primarily in the form of complaints about unfair competition from prison-made products being created in the public market. Allegations of abuse were also made, accusing prisons of exploiting inmates and concerns were raised over the security of the public. All three criticisms increased political pressure and worked in creating legislative changes. Self-sufficiency as a key element of the penitentiary system was being challenged and continued to be phased out. During the last two decades incarceration in the United States has become increasingly privatised, commercialised and run in favour of corporate profit. Companies such as Aramark and many other suppliers have made substantial profits, through providing prisons with food and other products. Between 1993 and 2000 alone, the US food service industry generated 36 billion dollars in profit through contracts with correctional facilities (Lyons, 2012).

For over 100 years Canada has had six successfully operating prison farms (Frontenac, Pittsburgh, Westmorland, Riverbend, Rockwood, and Bowden). However, in 2009, the Canadian Corrections Department began taking action towards phasing out the farms, claiming deficits of around four million per annum and suggesting money used to run the farms could be better put into "public safety". There has been no proof provided to support such claims of ineffectiveness and those involved with the farms argue this is not the case, with the farms in fact being extremely positive correctional operations. In response to the news of closing the farm community members, correctional officers and ex inmates themselves came together in the national "Save Our Prison Farms" campaign. The campaign seeks to stall the closure of the prison farms in order to provide non-governmental experts time to collect evidence of the farm's viability and benefits (Lyons, 2012). In the United Kingdom prison farm closures began taking place several years ago. Between 2002 and 2005 the prison service significantly reduced its farming regime from having twenty-three farms, to only the current five. Those currently in operation include; North Sea Camp, Prescoed, Hewell, East Sutton Park and Kirkham but between them only provide a mere 92 inmate work opportunities. They are run on a small scale with no real emphasis of self-sufficiency and have become more about training than anything else (Ministry of Justice, 2010).

Although it would appear self-sufficiency in prison is becoming a redundant concept, there are places which are embracing it and achieving successful results. As mentioned above, Bastoy prison in Norway is the quintessential example of an operational self-sufficient prison which is demonstrating the immense value such a prison can have. The origins of Bastoy stem from a Scandinavian ethos of open and active prisons which have throughout time been based on the principle that prisons should be no more arduous than a loss of liberty and be as normal to daily life on the outside as possible. The idea of prison farms began in Finland in the 1930s, with a new type of labour colony being introduced to the Finnish prison system in 1946. Inmates have always been and still are paid according to the normal wage, it would also not be uncommon for prisoners to be paying taxes, buying food, giving money to their family, to their victims and saving for their release. Open prisons hold between 20 % (Sweden) to 40 % (Denmark) of the Scandinavian prison population and in nearly all cases when a prisoner is reaching the end of their sentence they will be moved to an open prison. Communal style living is largely adopted in these facilities, with some prisons being entirely self-catering and for the most part those at an open prison will be working during the day (Pratt, 2008).

Most recently, the environmental sustainability of prisons has drawn attention, with concerns being raised about the ecological footprint of corrections and also because of the rehabilitative value "green" initiatives can have. Just in 2011, the US Department of Justice released the publication "The Greening of Corrections: Creating a Sustainable System," a document which outlines sustainable practices, principles and identifies examples of programs and management strategies which can be implemented to create self-sustaining correctional facilities. The focus throughout the document is on the long term goal of limiting the financial and human costs of prisons. Methods outlined to achieve this goal are the reduction of energy and resource use, engaging inmates with beneficial work experiences as well as giving education and training (US Department of Justice, 2011). An organisation going forth and putting these ideals into practice is the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Operating as a partnership between Washington State Corrections and Evergreen College they seek to make prisons more environmentally sustainable and in turn economically efficient. Currently four Washington State correctional centres are operating in unison with the project; Cedar Creek, Stafford Creek, Mission Creek and Washington Corrections Centre for Women. Each are participating in varying programs which include; endangered animal protection, insects and plants, water and energy conservation, "motorless" lawn mowing, a dog rescue initiative, butterfly rehabilitation program, recycling, composting, organic gardening, a horticulture greenhouse, beekeeping, water catchment basins, low-flush toilets, tree planting and wild land fire fighting.


When analysing the concept of self-sufficient prisons, there are both advantageous and disadvantageous aspects which need to be acknowledged to gain a complete understanding of the viability of such a prison model. In firstly examining the potential benefits to come from a self-sufficient environment, one of primary significance is the possibility of self-sufficient practices being able to reduce prison expenditure. A change as simple as removing state issued clothing and uniforms could save millions of dollars. Building on this, if prisoners are taking care of themselves, there is consequently less of a need to employ staff to do things such as cooking, cleaning, farming, gardening and maintenance jobs. Having inmates produce and harvest their own food could allow for even greater savings. According to Breslin (2012), if the United States were to enact a policy which required prisons to utilise their own food sources through the operation of self-sufficient farms, prison spending could be reduced by $1.7 billion each year. Lyons (2012) similarly supports this notion and she uses the Florida Department of Corrections as a case example. In 2001 they ended a history of prison farming and contracted Aramark to provide all the food needed to Florida's prisons. This was in an attempt to save money, but six years later costs were only increasing by millions of dollars. Costs could only be reduced through a change in prisoner's lifestyles, but also through sustainably modifying prison facilities. Buildings can be constructed or altered to be environmentally sustainable. This would include among other things, installing solar panels, composting and recycling plants and farming ecologically. Putnamville medium security facility in Indiana has recently implemented several green initiatives, such as; using a wood chipper that fuels a wood-burning furnace (saving $1.25 million per year), recycling cans, bottles, paper, and other material which in turn saves them around $150,000 each month (Couch, 2012).

An equally valuable advantage of the self-sufficient prison regime is the potential benefit to inmate health, both mentally and physically. Lyons (2012) noted that through being able to exercise, to breath in fresh air, and to simply get outside the confines of cement and barbed wire inmates would be healthier and emotional pressures associated with the harsh prison environment would be abridged. More specifically the mental health of prisoners could be aided through having the intellectual stimulation of actually taking part in meaningful activity, such as harvesting food for their own tables or chopping wood to keep them warm. Successfully completing jobs could also increase the sense of self pride in inmates, seeing they can achieve and successfully live independently. Physical advantages are just as evident, working is obviously a form of exercise and through growing their own organic produce dietary needs would be likely to be met in turn reducing the risk of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, all conditions stemming from unhealthy eating patterns. Additionally, with an increase in the overall health of inmates, money would be saved on prison medical services (Breslin, 2012).

Correlations have been drawn between a better quality of living and the improved behaviour and conduct of inmates. When interviewed about life inside Bastoy, an inmate tractor driver said "in closed prison I was locked up for 23 hours a day, so I'm really happy with this job. I am treated very well here and in return I will treat them very well also" (Hernu, 2011).  A US post-release employment project study found prison conduct among inmates who had taken part in work, vocational or apprenticeship programs was better than that of otherwise similar prisoners (Reynolds, 1996). Related to having the opportunity to work and live self-sufficiently in prison is the education and vocational skills prisoners could learn. As suggested by Lyons(2012), the job and life skills that inmates learn through farming, teamwork, time management and having responsibility can be applicable to any type of future work.

In now turning to the potential downfalls of the self-sufficient model, the most notable disadvantage is the safety risk an open style of prison poses. Internally there is an increased risk of danger to both inmates and officers safety and externally there is a greater risk of endangerment of the public due to more opportunities for escape. Firstly, if inmates are openly living and working with each other there are going to be vast opportunities for violence and abuse to take place, especially when tools which could be used as weapons are involved. Constant movement would make it harder for guards to keep track of inmates, whereas when in a cell all day constant monitoring can occur. Secondly, guards would be more susceptible to harm in an environment where there is frequent close interaction between themselves and inmates. Trust is so heavily relied upon in a community based self-sufficient model that if this was abused there could be dire consequences. The possibility of threats to public safety could also be said to increase, as with more freedom come more chances to escape and be at large in general society.

A risk associated directly with working in prison is the exploitation of inmates. Frequently outlined in prison research as a significant disadvantage of prison farms; this concern lies in the possibility of production becoming more important than any other factor, including the welfare of the prisoners who can become subject to hard labour and little else. There have been numerous situations where agricultural work in prison has been the catalyst of degrading and unhealthy working conditions exposing inmates to disease, physical violence and abusive practices (Lucko, 2007). For some, the idea of prisoners living in a community like environment, which includes recreational time and the opportunity to live a life based on normality, would fall short in serving the retributive role prisons are traditionally expected to provide. Victims and their families may feel this alternative model of prison does not adequately punish perpetrators for the crimes they have committed against them.

Monetary exploitation can also occur through inmates being extremely under paid for their labour when working on farms, building furniture or assembling products for giant multi-national corporations who can make additional profits at the expense of prisoners. Resulting from this is the possibility of large corporations like Microsoft or McDonalds engaging in the practice of utilising prison labour and gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors (Smith and Hattery, 2006).

Rehabilitation and self-sufficient prisons

"If we have created a holiday camp for criminals here, so what? We should reduce the risk of reoffending, because if we don't, what's the point of punishment, except for leaning toward the primitive side of humanity?" (Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, quoted in Sutter, 2012). This quote demonstrates the strong rehabilitative views of Bastoy's prison director, who currently heads the prison with lowest reoffending rate in Europe. He strongly believes in the theory that if inmates are eventually going to end up being somebody's neighbour, everything possible should be done to enhance rehabilitation and ultimately prevent future crime. The proof of his beliefs becoming a reality are evident in the correlations which can be drawn between the self-sufficient and open environment at Bastoy and the mere 16% reoffending rate.

In attempting to ascertain whether any particular element of the self-sufficient regime is more effective than another in reducing reoffending, each of the main facets of the concept will be examined below. A vast amount of support has been given for the effectiveness of farming and/or working in prisons. Lyons (2012) suggests that there are two main steps which need to be taken for the cycle of criminality to be broken. The first, individual empowerment and the second, being able to find work upon release. Farming she believes is a proven success in helping prisoners to achieve both. To get a real perspective on farming as a rehabilitative tool Lyons (2012) interviewed a former correctional officer from a Canadian prison farm. In their opinion prison farming is the single-most successful rehabilitation program they have seen to exist, and that in their thirty years working with the program they did not see one case of violent reoffending amongst prisoners who had been involved.

Another aspect of the self-sufficient philosophy being explored here is the openness this type of prison has. In contrast to the more traditional closed ideal where prisoners spend a vast majority of their time behind bars, in an open style prison inmates are faced with everyday decisions on constant basis. Bastoy governor Nilsen suggests that at Bastoy the openness of the prison allows for inmates to learn and be taught how to make the right decisions and essentially become better people. He compares this to in a closed prison where prisoners are mostly removed from interactive encounters and situations requiring cognitive thinking. This he refers to as treating prisoners like "animals" or "robots" (Sutter, 2012). In a conventional prison in which inmates have no freedom and are not involved with work or farming, it is too often the case that the system literally closes the door in the face of the inmate. It is surely absurd to really believe that this will be beneficial, especially in terms of rehabilitation. Being given the personal responsibility of a job in prison and becoming a part of a working environment has the potential for prisoners to increase self-respect, as well as respect for others such as the system which would be supporting instead of disregarding them. When describing the effect Bastoy's open prison has had on inmates, Nilsen refers to opportunities inmates have here to do more than just sit in a cell all day. "They look at themselves in the mirror, and they think, 'I am s***. I don't care. I am nothing,'" he said. This prison, he says, gives them a chance to see they have worth, "to discover, 'I'm not such a bad guy "(Nilsen quoted in Sutton, 2012).

The ecological focus of a self-sufficient prison model not only contributes to a sustainable environment, but has also been linked having to rehabilitative qualities. When daily life is spent in a safe, healthy and humane environment, on release the positive and green initiatives experienced inside can surely only be of benefit to the community on release . Research has been carried out to support such assumptions and uncover any relationships existent between living sustainably, having exposure to nature and consequential prisoner rehabilitation. Wener et al (cited in US Department of Justice, 2011) found that the effect of interaction with nature on human behaviour is improved emotional wellbeing. Similarly in a separate study conducted by Ulrich (cited in US Department of Justice, 2011) it was established that through being involved with nature aggressive tendencies and stress can both be reduced. In evaluating the value of the Sustainable Prison Project currently already action in Washington, the Department of Justice (2011) believes that benefits of these projects are wide-ranging and encompass far more than just learning new skills. Their review of the project found improvements in; inmate self-esteem, interactions with others and the sense of purpose they had. All of which are congruent with the goal rehabilitation. With a vast amount of studies and research highlighting increases in recidivism and re-offending figures, we are faced with a significant correctional challenge. It is no longer plausible to simply argue that prison acts as a place of deterrence to those released, the statistics alone have continuously portrayed the reality that this is not working.

Self-sufficient prisons in a New Zealand environment

After considering the concept of self-sufficient prisons in their entirety , the viability of this alternative prison model successfully working in a New Zealand context will now be addressed. In comparing New Zealand to Norway, where a self-sufficient prison is already proving achievable, there are numerous similarities between the countries which could arguably suggest a New Zealand environment could too be compatible with this correctional method. Both countries are sparsely inhabited with populations of around four million, many of whom in both countries live as part of small rural communities of towns, rather than large sprawling cities. Norway in terms of a social and human development index is the number one ranked country, but then New Zealand is also within the top five out of 187 countries (Human Development Report, 2011).

Other factors relative to this assessment include New Zealand's small number of maximum security inmates, just 2.5%. The majority, or 53.8 % are in fact minimum security (Newbold, 2005). It would seem with such a large number of prisoners being of low security, the risks associated with adopting a more open and interactive model of prison to house this category of prisoners would be relatively low. We also already have the beginnings of a self-sufficient prison mentality in place. Currently in operation are various income generating ventures providing employment opportunities for prisoners, this includes; two dairy farms, three dry stock farms, one piggery, two sheep farms, three organic gardens, six nurseries, five joinery workshops, three furniture assembly workshops, a forest, three timber processing workshops, six textile workshops, three light engineering workshops, three vehicle repair garages, one compost bagging operation and central kitchens in each of New Zealand's  prisons (Department of Corrections, 2012).

The progression towards a model similar to Bastoy is not completely unthinkable. As outlined, New Zealand has the potential to follow the same path as Norway in adopting more sustainable practices. However, the possible limitations of New Zealand's capability to introduce self-sufficient prisons cannot be ignored. One major aspect which not only differentiates New Zealand from Norway, but could also limit the success of self-sufficient prisons in this context, is culture. Negative historical relations between Maori and the State are still today at the centre of much racism, mistrust and social division and this plays a role in crime and prison culture, especially when Maori are so significantly overrepresented in our prisons. Due to the nature of the traditional system, which places blatant divides between prisoners and correctional staff, both parties can fall into viewing each other as the "enemy." These attitudes would have to change and mutual trust and respect increased before any community style prison could work. The Gang culture in New Zealand and incidentally in prison creates even more division and an open style of prison may only serve to instigate fighting, allow for gang conflicts and gang domination of inmates.

In Norway these types of divisions are relatively absent, primarily due to the fact Norwegians are extremely socially responsible, uniting members of society together as equals. This can especially be seen in the understanding the state, public and even the media display to those in prison, those being released and the rehabilitative purpose prison serves. Associated with this social care mentality is the time and effort that the state puts into training prison officers. In Norway they receive two years training while on full salary and once qualified their role is seen as professional (Pratt, 2007). Contrastingly, in New Zealand, officers are given a mere six weeks training and are often publically disregarded being labelled "thugs" or "key turners" far from the professionalism of Norway. Scandinavian prisons are completely run by the state, where as in New Zealand the Government has begun to contract prisons to private companies. Paying for another party to run the prison would defeat the principles behind the self-sufficient ideal. Mass unawareness can be the burden of initiative, even of something which to those informed is so obviously for the common good of society. This is arguably the case in New Zealand, where people simply haven't been informed or are only given negative one-eyed images of crime as portrayed through the media. This consequently making the public as a whole more likely to be opposed to an action as liberal and forward thinking as the self-sufficient prison ideal.

Another more physical consideration which could pose problems is the pure and simple fact that more crime is committed in New Zealand and the prison population is therefore larger. In New Zealand there are around 8000 inmates whilst in Norway there are only 3000. Geographically there could also be obstacles to overcome. Bastoy is uniquely located on its own island, which restricts escapes and allows for the open environment which inmates experience. Suggesting to the New Zealand public that Rangitoto for example was to be used as a prison, would undoubtedly cause widespread protest. Whether the island component plays such a crucial role that the concept would not work on the mainland will remain unknown until it is trialled.


As Ghandi once said, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," why then should New Zealand remain fixated on the notion of reparation, of punishing someone so as to make them "pay" for what they have done to another. This will only ever get us so far, and never far enough to successfully reduce reoffending and change the culture of prisons in New Zealand. In attempting to examine an alternative to the current conventional style of prison, this essay has examined the concept of self-sufficient prisons. In doing so, the history of self-sufficiency and prison has been explored and analysis of potential strengths and weaknesses of the concept was carried out. This paper has found numerous correlations to exist between the elements of the self-sufficient prison concept and rehabilitation. In looking at the practicality and viability of self-sufficient prisons operating in New Zealand, it was established that this could be achieved but significant obstacles stand to be overcome. The question remains, do we dare contemplate such change, or rather do we play safe and follow the tested correctional models passed down to us from our American and British counterparts. It may be at our peril if we persist with a regime which continues to fail as recidivism rates increase, suggesting that perhaps these methods aren't really that "safe."