Author Topic: Korea : Can privately-run prisons work?  (Read 1608 times)

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Offline mayya

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Korea : Can privately-run prisons work?
« on: October 11, 2013, 12:59:07 PM »
Can privately-run prisons work?

An inmate reads the Bible behind bars in a cell for sick detainees at Somang Correctional Institution in Yeoju-gun, Gyeonggi Province. The wide windows that let in a lot of light, unlocked doors and a pair of slippers next to the door are indicative of the prison’s humane conditions, distinguishing it from other state prisons. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Nam Hyun-woo

The doorway is only big enough for one person to pass through.

When the heavy steel door closes behind with a thud, it brings with it a sense of isolation.

Welcome to Somang Correctional Institution, the first privately run prison in Asia. It is mostly publicly funded, the government provides 90 per cent of operating finance.

Opened in December 2010, the prison is located in the mountainous area of Yeoju-gun, Gyeonggi Province. It holds 300 offenders, transferred from other prisons nationwide. More than 50 percent are felony offenders, with convictions for murder, robbery and rape.

Since it opened, 230 offenders have been released from the prison with only two imprisoned for repeat offenses. The average national recidivism rate is 62 percent. Somang officers aim for 4 percent.

Private correctional facilities, or for-profit prisons, are big business in some Western countries, with 10 percent of all prisons in the U.S. run by companies.

But officers in Somang claim they are not interested in pursuing profits but focus instead on treating inmates humanely.

Shim Dong-sup, the warden of the prison, said, “The low recidivism rate was achieved because of our humane approach to prisoners.”

The inmates of Somang often describe the prison as a “hotel” compared to other prisons where they previously served their terms. Officers use polite language when speaking to inmates. Many cells are lined with linoleum, while others have wooden floors, and are equipped with floor heating systems for the winter. Also, unlike other prisons, the cells in Somang have TVs and toilets, items that are considered luxuries among prisoners. Another privilege is that inmates eat in a mess hall, instead of being fed inside their cells.

“Traditional methods of prisoner rehabilitation have come to a dead-end. We believe that awakening the basic need within inmates to be respected as human beings is the key to ensuring their rehabilitation succeeds,” said Shim.

The prisoners also said that such a humane approach helps them.

“Many of my cell mates say serving terms in Somang affected them positively and change their nature,” an inmate, surnamed Cha, who served one-year-and-five months in the prison said.

“The prison system here is focused on personal education, instead of punishment and confinement,” he said.

The government provides most of the running costs needed for the prison with the remaining amount coming from the Agape Foundation which manages the prison. Operating costs are also minimized.

“In public prisons they have to show they are following procedural protocols, such as only buying furniture from contracted retailers. But, we don’t have to do this because we are privately run. We just search the Internet and find the cheapest one. That’s how we cut costs,” Shim said.

The prosecutor-turned-warden said the government should nurture the privately-run prison industry to accommodate 10 percent of the country’s 48,000 offenders currently behind bars.

“At least 10 private prisons should be built, not only to improve the quality of life for inmates but also in the interests of achieving successful rehabilitation,” he said.

There is evidence of a functional community within the prison. The inmates greet each other, and say “Enjoy your meal” before eating. Unlike in other prisons, they seem to be taking care of each other, the first step toward what Shim describes as, “Closing the revolving doors in prisons.”