California lawmakers recently considered a bill to create a different type of jobs-training program for incarcerated people who would live in a communal setting — similar to prisons in Norway.
“It’s almost as if you’re part of a dorm, and you’re working with other folks to help each other,” Stockton Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua told KQED in an interview a day ahead of bringing the bill before fellow lawmakers.
Villapudua proposed the measure, AB 2730, after learning about Norway’s prison system.
“We need to get out of institutional life and make it more of a community and give those folks that have made a mistake in their lives, you know, give them a second chance, a third chance at life so they can be part of society again,” Villapudua said in the interview.
The measure aims to curb California’s reported 50% recidivism rate.
Norway reported a recidivism rate reduction from 70% to 20% after reforms took place in the 1990s.
Last June, former San Quentin resident Isiah Daniels flew to Oslo, Norway for a firsthand look at Norway prisons while attending the first-ever international Prison Radio conference.
Daniels is an adviser to UnCuffed — a podcast produced by incarcerated Californians in partnership with Bay Area radio station KALW and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
KQED interviewed Daniels on June 28. Here are some selected questions and answers.
KQED: As part of this visit, were you able to speak with incarcerated people or correctional officers?
Daniels: Yes, we had a correctional officer, who was more of a guide than an officer. What she mainly did was get us from one point to anther. What I was doing was walking out onto the yard, look around and see who was out there, and then mosey this way a little bit and just introduce myself.
KQED: What’s a conversation that stands out to you?
Daniels: I think the one that stood out the most to me was their perception of the guards. They called them friends. They called them help. One of them called him “little brother.”
KQED: Wow. “Little brother” in Norwegian, I’m going to assume.
Daniels: One guy was kind of interpreting something from the guy. He said they’re just like family. He said, These guards, they care about me. They care about us. They care about our education. They care about our success. They even care about our families.
KQED: This obviously sounds very nice and very ideal, but what did you hear about the challenges facing Norway’s prisons?
Daniels: So we went to a part of the prison where they actually have their family visits. This is where they bring men to teach them how to become fathers. They let the kids come in, the wives, and they learn to be fathers. [But] they closed it. That was one of the things that caught my attention.
KQED: It seems like you would be the perfect person to answer this question because I know California is not the only state looking at Norway-style prison reform: Is this the way to go in the United States?
Daniels: We could have already done it. It’s amazing how we can fly this far across the country to a place to look at a model of a prison system that we could have already done ourselves — if we wanted to. And I say, “If we wanted to” because what it takes to get our prisons [to be] like their prisons, is people just doing it.