Why this story matters:
There are two ways of looking at the role of prisons in society. One is to punish and exclude inmates from society altogether. The second one is to create better conditions for prisoners, and to inspire them to want to be part of society, like Norway has chosen to do.
A recent TEDx event at Tallinn prison in Estonia hints that the country might be moving towards a more inclusive penal system like in Norway.
This change is welcome, because Estonia still has one of the highest incarceration rates (per capita) amongst OECD countries.
The speeches were published on Youtube last week for anyone to see.
One of the speakers, Anastassia Šatskaja, told the listeners her story.
A daughter of a policeman, she never thought she would end up in jail. But she has made the most of her experience. Anastassia finished high school with honours and is now remotely studying business management in Estonia's private university.
All of this while in prison.
Anastassia says that behind bars, freedom is exchanged for time. As a result, many inmates become very creative. They read a lot, write poetry, even paint.
Right now, those paintings are destroyed after the prisoners leave, but Anastassia proposes in her speech to create a web platform where inmates could sell their art and other creations via auction and use the money for charity. This platform could also be a larger contact point between the prisoners and the free world. And since the Ministry of Justice has already declared an interest in the idea, Anastassia's vision could soon become a reality in Estonian prisons.
Details from the story:
- The TEDx in Tallinn Prison was an effort to provide opportunities for prisoners to engage with society. One of the key organizers of the event in Tallinn Prison was Mari-Liis Sööt, head of the analysis division at the Ministry of Justice. She explained that they decided to hold the event in the prison to inspire the prisoners.
- In Estonia, people like to make fun of the Norwegian system where prisoners live in cells that are nicer than an average home in Estonia, Sööt says. At the same time, the US system is praised. But, according to Sööt, the recidivism rate in Norway is the lowest in the world. Only 20% of the prisoners in Norway are convicted within two years after their release. In the US, the same rate is at 70%.
- That is why Sööt believes it's important to inspire inmates because by gaining an education and an occupation they can gain self confidence.
- There were special rules for those who came from the outside to listen to the speeches. They were not allowed to bring any electric devices to the old jail, they couldn't carry more than 200 euros cash with them and there were even rules about beauty products. For example, only plastic and cardboard nail files were allowed.