Volume 58

"Ice in the Stomach": Reforming Prisons at Home and Abroad

by Steven L. Chanenson, Synøve N. Andersen, Jordan M. Hyatt, Are Høidal, Kenneth Eason, and Patricia Connor-Council

Correctional culture is notoriously difficult to change. Simply recognizing that there is a problem and wishing for better prisons is not enough to engender meaningful reform. It takes hard work, dedication, and continuous support from multiple stakehold-ers. At its core, however, improving carceral systems requires a team of people dedi-cated to change. The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons put it this way: “Efforts at culture change cannot succeed and bear fruit . . . without recruiting and retaining a highly qualified officer corps and great corrections leaders.” 

Those people exist. Several of them are engaged in an important experiment attempting to make positive change a reality. 

In October 2020, the American Criminal Law Review partnered with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to host a multi-day Symposium entitled Prison Brake: Rethinking the Sentencing Status Quo. The Symposium’s initial two panels highlighted the work of the Scandinavian Prison Project (“SPP”), which examines whether variations on Scandinavian penal values and practices can work in Pennsylvania. 

The SPP is a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“PADOC”), particularly a group of staff from the State Correctional Institution (“SCI”) at Chester, and the correctional services in Scandinavia—that is, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. As part of the SPP, a delegation from the PADOC spent sev-eral weeks during the summer of 2019 in Scandinavia learning about local practices. Furthermore, Pennsylvania correctional officers worked in Norwegian prisons side-by- side with their Norwegian counterparts. The idea was to determine what could be trans-planted back to the United States successfully. Upon returning home, the PADOC par-ticipants began to craft a plan to adapt and implement select Scandinavian principles and practices in a single revamped residential housing unit at SCI Chester. 

The Symposium’s first panel, Rethinking Prisons: Lessons from Scandinavia, described the project and featured Professors Steven L. Chanenson, Synøve N. Andersen, and Jordan M. Hyatt, who are part of a team of academics affiliated with the SPP. An Article based on that presentation appears elsewhere in this Issue. The Symposium’s second panel, Rethinking Prisons: Implementing Reform at Home and Abroad, revolved around the experiences of three correctional professionals: Governor Are Høidal from Norway’s Halden Prison, and Superintendent Kenneth Eason and Unit Manager Patricia Connor-Council, both from Pennsylvania’s SCI Chester. Professors Andersen and Hyatt served as moderators. An edited, condensed, and clarified Transcript follows with occasional commentary in italics from Professors Chanenson, Andersen, and Hyatt.

Read the Transcript Here

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