Contrasts in freedom: Comparing open and closed prisons in England & Wales and Norway

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Open prisons are portrayed as less harmful custodial institutions than
closed prisons, and prison systems that rely more heavily on low security
imprisonment are typically considered to have a more humane and less
punitive approach to punishment. However, few studies have
systematically compared the subjective experiences of prisoners held in
open and closed prisons, and no study has yet compared the role and
function of open prisons across jurisdictions. Drawing on a survey
conducted with prisoners (N=1082) in 13 prisons in England & Wales and
Norway, we provide the first comparative analysis of experiences of
imprisonment in closed and open prisons, conducted in countries with
diverging penal philosophies (‘neoliberal’ vs ‘social democratic’). The
article documents that open prisons play a much more significant role in
Norway than in England & Wales; that prisoners in both countries rate
their experience significantly more positively in open compared to closed
prisons; and that while imprisonment seems to produce similar kinds of
pains in both types of prisons, they are perceived as less severe and
more manageable in open prisons. These findings suggest important
implications for comparative penology, penal policy, and prison reform.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Criminology
ISSN1477-3708
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2021

ID: 284718944