The Appeal Presents: A Conversation on Open Prisons With Phillip A. Jones and David Shipley
David Shipley tells Phillip A. Jones, who has spent more than 30 years in U.S. prisons, about his experiences in a British “open prison.”
This podcast is a co-production with The Wall: Behind and Beyond, which seeks to tackle misconceptions, myths, and societal issues through conversations between its incarcerated host, Phillip A. Jones, and other people impacted by the criminal-legal system.
Phillip A. Jones has spent more than 30 years in U.S. prisons. David Shipley served four years in U.K. prisons. On this special episode of The Wall: Behind and Beyond, they discuss their experiences on the inside and how the overall approach to incarceration differs in the two nations.
“I think whether you are the most strident liberal who really believes in improving social justice or if you’re a fiscal conservative, you should want a prison system which makes it less likely for people to re-offend and be taken back,” Shipley says. “We should change the system so that we don’t create these traps and pitfalls for prisoners.”
Download this episode from LibSyn
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Phillip A. Jones: Welcome to an exciting cross-stream edition of The Wall: Behind and Beyond, in collaboration with The Appeal. I am your host Phillip A. Jones, and I’m very pleased to introduce my guest today David Shipley. David and I will be discussing the differences between the prison complex here in the United States and the Open Prison model of the United Kingdom in an effort to provide alternate perspectives on the idea of restorative justice programs. However, before we get to that, I want to welcome David to the show. How are you, my friend? I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you about this most important subject.
David Shipley: That’s great, thanks. I’m good. I’m looking forward to it as well.
Phillip: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself before we start? Sort of an introduction, so to speak?
David: I used to work in investment banking, but in 2014 I committed fraud. I lied to some investors when we were raising money to start a business. Subsequently, I was interviewed by the police, charged, and imprisoned for 45 months, going to prison in 2020. I spent about half of my time in prison in a traditional closed prison in the U,K. and then the last nine or ten months in an open prison, which is mostly what I’m talking about today.
These days I campaign on prison reform; I talk about and write about prison reform; and I am beginning a doctorate looking at the effects of parental imprisonment on the children of prisoners.
Phillip: Thank you so much. I love that, man. You’re doing some great work, and I hope that we can continue after this to work together on this most important subject. Before we get started, let me give our U.K. audience some insight as to who I am and how I came to do the work that I’ve been doing now for the last several years. First off, I’m currently incarcerated myself. I came to prison at the age of 19, and I’ve spent the last nearly 33 years of a life sentence inside. I was convicted of attempted murder one and two, conspiracy to commit murder, and handgun violations. As someone sitting inside the prison system, it has always been a top priority of mine to seek constructive changes being made that would improve the quality of life for individuals serving time in U.S. prisons.
It was for this reason that I began learning and teaching about the subject of re-entry. I took it a step further and founded a nonprofit called Inside-Outside Consults that is geared toward shifting societal paradigms, in an effort to change how we do prisons in the U.S. I wanted to speak to different people about why we placed such a focus on vengeance, as opposed to healing and rehabilitation. To this end, I started my podcast in hopes of reaching a wider audience and giving a public platform to the voices behind the wall who are directly impacted. My work as a consultant also gives me the ability to sit at the table with both policymakers and grassroots community activists who champion such causes. Now that we have some type of perspective, I want to get to it, because what you will hear today I hope will provoke some thoughts and ideas for how we can improve or fix our current system of justice here in the United States as well as abroad.
First, I want to ask you, can you explain the concept of open prisons so that our American listeners have a clear understanding of what an open prison is?
David: Sure thing. In the British prison system, for men’s prisons there are four different categories of prison. Category A, B, C and D. A, B, and C are all closed prisons. So the prisons where you are locked in your cell; there are plenty of locked bars and locked doors between you and the outside; there’s layers of security. Category A and B are for those who were considered the most dangerous prisoners or the prisoners most likely to escape, and slightly lower restrictions in Category B and Category C.
Category D prisons are very different. They are what’s called open prisons. Open prisons don’t have walls, so you don’t have a cell; you have a room, and the only person who has a key to the room is you. You can come and go as you choose. You have to promise not to leave the site unless you’ve been given official permission to. But they are more like walking around a college campus rather than what you might think of in a prison. I was actually going back to my journal for my time, and I had just arrived at an open prison. I noticed that I had written on the second day it was like a youth hostel in 1997, so that sort of experience was very, very different to a prison.
Phillip: Well, how did you come to even know about open prisons? Was it just because you were transferred? Or did you have to make a request? Or what?
David: Well, if you go to prison in Britain I don’t think you could spend a day in prison without hearing about open prisons. Prisoners in closed conditions talk about the open system as if it’s the promised land. You know they always say, “Did you hear that guy? He got D-Cat; he’s being shipped out.” You know, people would talk about it as a place where you could get takeaway sent in, and all these sort of crazy wonderful ideas, some of which were true and some of which weren’t. So everyone talks about it; everyone wants to get D-Cat. It’s an environment where it’s as free as you can be while still being a prisoner.
When I entered the person system, you didn’t have a default assumption that you got open prison conditions. That actually changed during my time inside, and now the theoretical policy is that if you have less than three years to serve remaining in a sentence then the default option would be that you should be considered for open conditions unless you’ve done something to rule yourself out of it.
Phillip: Man that’s awesome, man. So you have to have less than three years? So that means that the most dangerous or the people who have violent offenses and have more time, they have to wait until they’re able to do the majority of their time before they’re able to get to the places like Hollesley Bay. In fact, I wanted you to also tell me what was it like at Hollesley Bay.
David: I was reading my journal just before this conversation to refresh my memory. It was so different to a prison. I think closed conditions are tough. We both know what prisons are like. My time in closed prisons, I kind of experienced a hostile environment; a lot of the prison officers and staff not wanting to help, being obstructive, not having much concern for prisoners’ safety or health. And really a prison system that did very little to help prisoners make a positive change to their lives.
And in almost every way I found the open prison was the opposite of that. Pretty simple things, you know, in closed conditions I felt like every time I wanted anything, even if it was like an extra towel or some extra cleaning products to clean my cell, I’d have to sort of fight through layers of bureaucracy to get there. Whereas in open prisons it was like, “Of course, how can we help?” It was very strange in some ways after that. I think also because of the nature of the environment if you have maybe 50, 60, 70 men living in an accommodation block where everyone has their own room, there’s a lot more time to socialize, so it’s less isolating in a way. There’s a lot more time to build relationships with each other. I think that’s a real positive.
The big thing that stuck out for me with Hollesley Bay was that it was quiet. I had come from a prison in the middle of London, and it was in the countryside on the coast. It was so quiet, and the air felt clean. The other big thing that stuck out for me was the amount of space you got. In normal prison, there’s always other people around you. You can hear them breathing, talking, banging, walking about, whatever it is.
A few days after I arrived, I took a walk from the accommodation block where I was living, down to the education block, which was about half a mile away down the road through some woods. I stopped halfway down this road, because it suddenly felt strange. I couldn’t work out what it was initially, and then I realized it was the first time since I’ve gone to prison that there was nobody else around. I looked around, and I could see maybe 200 or 300 yards in every direction.
No one else was there. No one was watching me. No one could hear me. I think that experience of space, of freedom, was one that really stood out for me.
Phillip: I see that prisons in the U.K. are basically the same as here. You guys are progressive, being an older country. I believe that has a lot to do with it, but for the most part they’re doing the same things here in the closed-style prisons. Everything is authoritative. You gotta ask for this; you gotta have a pass to go here; and you can’t go out of bounds. If you need some cleaning supplies, you got to go and request it. It’s so much more controlling in the environment, and it’s super loud, as you can hear maybe from my background. This is a medium custody, and it’s so loud. There’s loudspeakers; there’s people going and coming all throughout the day. I actually have a tablet that I usually use the phone on, but I decided to come out into the day room to do this interview because the tablet has glitches, and sometimes the sound quality is not good, although it would have been much more quieter in my room.
I just wanted to say, from everything you said, it sounds like it probably took a while before policymakers in the U.K. and those who take care of issues dealing with the prison system evolved to where they are now, but if you can tell us what changed for you after you moved to Hollesley Bay, then that is the key to us making changes here and anywhere else, because they would see the outcome of someone doing time in an open prison creates more opportunity for them to be made whole and heal and go home and do better, have a better life or opportunity.
David: Yeah, I think that’s a good question. I can talk to you about how it was a nicer place to be. It was nice to have my own room, more freedom, and all sorts of things, but I think for policymakers we might be trying to persuade election-wise in favor of open prison those arguments probably aren’t all that convincing.
I think the things that you could do in an open prison, which I think are transformative to lots of prisoners and transformative to the rest of society are around the opportunities. In an open prison, you can apply to work at a local company. You can apply to study at a local college or university. This is a huge thing. The reality in Britain certainly of in-prison education and in-prison work is it’s normally pretty low quality. The work is pretty low-skilled work. It’s very badly paid, and you don’t develop any employable skills for outside a prison. The education often provides certifications which aren’t accepted outside of prison. It’s very wasteful.
To give you a couple of examples of what you can do in an open prison, I started an M.A. in creative writing. I knew with a fraud conviction I couldn’t be a banker anymore. I knew I wanted to write, and I knew I wanted to write about my prison experience. The prison was able to facilitate me during Covid having internet access within the prison in a secure room so I could participate in Zoom with the other people on my course and do my M.A. with them. I, as a result, completed the M.A. after I was released and graduated this year. Now I write. I have a whole new skill set and a way of expressing myself and talking about issues in prisons. It’s a path for the second half of my life to do some policy work.
For example, there’s a guy I mentor. He was in the same closed prison with me, and a few months after I arrived at Hollesley Bay, he followed on. He had two years left to serve. I said, “Why don’t you do a degree?” He was talking about doing some study, and I encouraged him to do it. He spent the last two years of his time in prison; every day, he was going out to study at the local university. After he got about a year at the university, he got introduced by people in his course to an employer who knew all about his situation and offered him a part-time job working for him while studying for his degree. He was released a couple of weeks ago. Now he’s gone full-time with them, and he’s going to finish his degree over the next year.
In the last two years, if he’d been in closed conditions he would have sat there. Maybe he’d have gone to the gym a lot and lift a lot of weights. Maybe he’d have read some books, but he would have been released essentially as he’d gone in. Instead he’s two-thirds of the way through a bachelor’s degree. He’s been working in a job that actually uses his studies and his skills. He is therefore able to move back into society in a way which massively reduces the chance of reoffending. He’s got an income. He’s got somewhere to live. He’s got a pathway to changing his life.
One final example, there’s another guy who was at Hollesley Bay who had served 15 years for drug importation. His wife and his children stood by him, but they were under a great deal of strain and pressure, as you’d imagine, and financial pressure. For his last two years in prison because he was in open conditions he was able to get out and work every day to earn good wage that he could send home to contribute bills, to keep paying the mortgage, to support his family. He was a proud guy, and being able to support his family gave him back confidence that he could be a productive, honest man again.
Phillip: Back again, talking to David, and I’ve got a few questions. Man, I know the listeners are curious just like I am about what are the privileges in open prison. For instance, I know you get a laptop. Do you get a cellphone? What are the visits like if your family member wants to come see you? Or do you even get visits since you get to leave the prison? You can go out of the prison. Can you have people come there?
David: Yes, there’s a few great points there. I’ll take visits first of all. If you have a traditional visit in an open prison, your family comes to visit you. At Hollesley Bay, you were allowed to stroll around the grounds with them. There are about fifty acres of open space there, and you were just allowed to walk around. Your wife and kids come to visit, and you could just walk around the field together for two hours.
That being said, those visits were not particularly popular because there’s better things you’re allowed to do. They’re called R.D.R. and R.O.R., but prisoners called them town leaves and home leaves. Town leave is an R.D.R. That is where you’re allowed to go out for the day to spend time with a loved one, typically family or friends. You would sign out of the prison at eight or nine in the morning, and you’d be expected back by typically three, four, five P.M. What people do in that situation is go out to the local town, in this case, Ipswich, and have a normal day with their family. You wear normal clothes. You walk down the street, take the kids to seaside, have an ice cream, you know just really good nourishing real-life stuff.
Once you’ve done one town leave successfully—you got out and came back when you said you would—you are then eligible for home leaves. These start with you being able to go home for two days and two nights.
David: Exactly. One of the reasons actually people tend to really behave themselves in open prisons, and there’s very little violence is because no one wants to lose that opportunity. You’ve been inside for however many years, and if you just behave yourself for a month then you’re going to be allowed to go home for three days. You can go sleep in a bed in your house, wake up, go into your shower, have a bath, you know whatever it is. Sit on your porch, have a coffee. Then those gradually scale up to the point where you’re getting home for five days at a time.
Once you’re up and running at an open prison, you’ve been there a few months, you’ll be going home, you can have two town leaves a month, so you have two days a month just going out to do stuff, and you’ll have one home leave a month where you’ll go home for five days. That does break up the misery of prison a bit and gave all of us something to look forward to, just knowing that in a few weeks you’re going home.
It’s not all joyful. I think it definitely with each home leave it got harder and harder to go back to the prison, I found. That experience of kind of leaving your real life, the life that you want to be in, and having to return to what is still a prison, even if it’s a prison without bars and without cells. That became harder and harder with each visit.
Phillip: I can imagine. You talked about the incentives; I would believe that if we had something like that here in the U.S., it would bring down not only recidivism but also violence because you know that you would you have a lot to lose, and you know that you never want to go back to a real prison after being allowed to have such freedom. Has this in your opinion, or statistically speaking, has this brought down recidivism rates in the U.K. having this type of program?
David: Recidivism rates are pretty high in the U.K., and I think part of that is because only about 5 percent of the prison population actually gets to go to open prisons. One of the problems is although everyone with less than three years to serve the default assumption is you go to open prison, there’s actually nowhere near enough open prison spaces, so there’s a huge backlog, and a lot of guys end up having to wait until they have two years left, one year left. I remember one guy arrived at Hollesley Bay with only four months left to serve.
I think the evidence is that the reoffending rate for people who go through the open system is less, and that makes sense for lots of reasons. They’ll almost certainly spent their time there doing really good, constructive, positive stuff like studying or working. They’ll have had opportunities to rebuild relationships with their family and their friends and their loved ones. They will have had time in a less toxic environment, frankly, an environment which is less violent, less uncaring, and less traumatizing. I think all those things mean that prisoners who come through the open system are less likely to reoffend.
Phillip: It sounds that the U.K. could also benefit from expanding the open prison model, since it’s such a low percentage of people who actually get there. You being at Hollesley Bay, how did that prepare you for life after incarceration? Were you able to save up money, get a program going, seek employment before you actually stepped out of Hollesley Bay? How did they prepare you re-entry-wise?
David: Yes, it did all of those things. It allowed me to start studying creative writing, and also I was able to to email pitches to editors, to publishers to start actually getting work even before release. That I think was really helpful. Kind of getting a bit of a head start makes such a big difference. I think the other examples I gave you of guys who had exactly the same experience, being able to earn money made such a difference. So often there are situations where they jailed someone for however many years, and when their release date comes, we throw them out into the world and we just expect that, hey, you’ve done your time now go and be a productive member of society.
I think the reality is most of us who went to prison went there because we made poor choices in our lives, and I don’t think anyone could learn to make different choices overnight. I think you need a gradual path to it, and the great thing the open prison system is that it gives people a bit of time; it gives them that last three years, almost as an offering from the closed prison system, the time to kind of adapt, time get used to operating in an environment where you don’t have to assert yourself with force and and and physical threat in order to achieve what you want. The fact that the culture within an open prison is much more like a normal nonprison environment, and the people are generally polite to each other. There’s not the sort of ever-present threats of conflict and violence. I think all of that means that actually people are more ready to rejoin the world.
I think certainly for myself I got a year’s headstart on my writing career that last year at Hollesley Bay. I mentioned to you that guy I mentored who got a two-year headstart on his new career.
Phillip: I often speak about something you mentioned. You need preparation, and you have to have a headstart. When you just open the door to prison, and people haven’t had a chance to put things in motion ahead of their release, it’s difficult for them to make that climb and to get back on an even level playing field with everyone else. Being in a place like Hollesley Bay or open prison gives one the opportunity to get themselves in a position where they can take care of their needs employment-wise, maybe get counseling, and add on to their education, which gives you a step up. That’s one of the things that I think that is the main problem for people coming back to prison and not actually leaving prison well. They had such a horrible experience with trauma, and they haven’t had a stepdown.
David: I think that’s a really insightful point. I think the trauma of prison takes a long time to process, and I’m still pressing mine for sure. I think it may be the task of a lifetime. You were talking about the problem of throwing people out the door of the prison expecting them to be able to thrive; we’re having an ongoing campaign in the U.K. to stop Friday releases for this reason.
What has happened historically here is that people will get released from prison at some point on a Friday morning. At that point, they’re not allowed to apply for housing from a closed prison to be released. They’re not allowed to open a bank account or anything like that. They’re not allowed to apply for any benefits until they’ve been released, and they have to go visit a probation officer. All of the services are closed on the weekend, so we chuck these guys out at 10 or 11 o’clock with—I think we get about seventy-five pounds in cash now as your release fund and that’s it—and they’re expected to do all of those things by 5 p.m. Friday.
Unsurprisingly when people have been in prison for years and years and years, they aren’t necessarily able to do those things quickly. And then when they fail to sort out the housing before the weekend or fail to get benefits or people don’t manage to make it to see their probation officer, they end up being locked up for having violates the terms sentence, and they get recalled. It’s just setting people up to fail. I think whether you are the most strident liberal who really believes in improving social justice or if you’re a fiscal conservative, you should want a prison system which makes it less likely for people to re-offend and be taken back. We should change the system so that we don’t create these traps and pitfalls for prisoners.
Phillip: I think that one of the main problems also is that, as in everything in the United States, politics affects it all. We got two different mindsets about what should be done with the criminal justice system, as well as prisons and sentencing in our country. It’s always about politics because that’s why they practice more so vengeance than trying to rehabilitate people and make them whole to return to society. Some of the similarities and differences that I was taken in as you were off sharing your experience with the prison before and after open prisons is that when you’re in a prison that’s closed, there’s much more authoritarian style, instead of people treating you more or less like you’re a human being coming from their community and that you’re going to return and that you may be their neighbor. They don’t look at it like. They look at it like, oh, you did a crime; you’re somebody that needs to be punished, and we’re going to make sure that you have that experience.
That’s in the most highest securities. I’ve been in the supermax, where I was locked in 23 hours a day. There’s not a lot of rules—you’re locked in your room all day. Then I went to close custody, which was three hours out of your room a day, and a lot more rules to follow. Everything is on a regime schedule. Now I’m in medium. It’s less security, but it’s still a whole lot of rules. We have a key to our doors in the medium facility where I’m at, but they still lock us down several times a day. Whenever something’s going on with another prisoner, “Lock in! Lock in!” Everybody has to lock in, and so it takes away from the fact that they give you a key that you can come out all day until it’s count time.
I think some of the similarities are there, but we don’t have open prisons at all. I think the best that we have is camp. Sometimes at camp, you can go out to fight fires and stuff like that. You go out to the community to work, but you’re not able to go home. You’re not able to go seek education or start working on your employment. You’re just still in prison with a little bit more privileges. I think there’s a lot of things we can learn from the U.K., but I’m but I’m wondering is that going to be off into the future or will we be able to compel them from some of the conversation that it’s time for us to do it now?
David: Yeah, I think it’s very interesting, the similarities. I think based on how you’re describing it I think British prison terms, we called the medium-security C-Cat, where you do have a key to your door, but they can still lock you in, and there’s quite a lot of association time. Something that resonated with me a lot that you talked about was the noise and the shouting and all the often really petty and confusing rules. I think one thing that the British prison system, that the closed prison is full of, are rules which are often inconsistently enforced, often seem to be kind of nonsensical. I think that that culture doesn’t actually help rehabilitate people.
If you teach people but the world is full of silly rules that make no sense and often the people in charge can’t explain why these rules exist—and sometimes the people in charge don’t even bother to enforce those rules—the lesson you’re teaching is that actually you don’t need to pay attention to rules. I think it’s interesting that you see some of the similarities there.
From what I’ve read about camps in the U.S., am I right in saying they that they are not typically for violent offenders or longer sentence offenders? Is that right?
Phillip: Well, you can work your way to camp, but it depends on your charge and the amount of time that you have you have. You have to get down to like two years to make it to camp, and rarely do people make it to work release. You know, if you break the rules inside of prison you might ruin your chances to go to work release, so 98 percent of people are not going to make it. to work release. That’s defeating the purpose of you returning to society, because work release is kind of like open. You go out for work, and you come back, but you’re still locked up, and you can’t leave when you want. Back with David in a minute.
Phillip: Back on the other side, discussing open prisons in the U.K. with David Shipley. I was just telling you that they have work release but rarely do anyone in our system go. You have a very small percentage, because if you catch certain tickets or infractions—I don’t know what they call them in the U.K.—it disqualifies you from going to work release. The furthest you can go is camp.
David: Here in the U.K., we call that nicking, so if you break a rule, you’ll get a nick, and you’ll have to sit in front of a governor and explain yourself. You might get a punishment ranging from a loss of privileges through to extra days on top of your sentence. I don’t know the details of how that would apply to open prison though. If you make it to a prison you are considered eligible for all the same things as other people.
There might be occasional difficulties, being edge cases. There was one guy who was in the open prison who was a foreign national. He was fighting an attempt by the U.K. government to deport him after his sentence. In wonderful prison logic, because they want to deport you, they’re worried that you might flee the country if they let you go on a home visit, which we all found quite strange, but that was their argument. There are occasional cases of people don’t go access the same things, but generally speaking once you’ve made it to open prison, you will be able to work outside or study outside.
One thing we haven’t talked about it might be worth bringing up here is that quite a substantial portion of the open prison population are what we call life-sentence prisoners. Those are typically prisoners who have committed murder. I think in many cases there’s an even bigger benefit to that population, because these are men who have been inside for a long time. One good friend of mine who I played a lot of chess with, both in the closed prison and the open prison, had spent 27 years inside. He was released last year. The open prison actually start to adapt to not being in quite such an imprisoned environment, actually going out into the world and seeing how things work differently now. I think for him and for others who have spent a very, very long time in prison, multi-decades, I think the open prison system actually is particularly beneficial because it provides that gentle off-ramp and not a sudden release.
Phillip: That’s interesting. That means that you guys’ life sentences have expirations. A lot of states in the in the U.S., their life sentence means life. There’s no expiration date, and the only way you can get out is by making parole if you have a parolable sentence, or you have to get an appeal and have your sentence altered somehow. Most countries around the world don’t even have life sentences anymore. Even if they do, there’s like a 25-year cap, or there’s an expiration eventually.
David: So it’s slightly strange in the U.K. They’re called life sentences, but what they normally come with is what’s called a minimum tariff. You might get a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 15 years. That would mean your first eligibility for parole is after serving 15 years. It doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be released then, and you usually only get to try for parole once every two years after you’ve reached that point.
If you do achieve parole, then you are still under the terms of that life sentence the rest of your life, so if you re-offend you would be recalled very quickly, and you are you’ll be meeting a probation officer for the rest of your life. We do still have what are called whole-life tariff, a life sentence no possibility of parole. Those are reserved for what are considered the most extreme crimes. There was a policeman here in London who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a young woman a couple of years ago, and so he was given a whole-life tariff, but those are a very, very small number of prisoners. I’d say most life-sentence prisoners would probably be released at some point.
Phillip: That’s interesting. Do you believe the open prison model could work here in the U.S.? If so how, and if not, why do you think?
David: That’s a great question. I would hope so. I mean, I think the culture in somewhere like U.K. is probably more similar to the U.S. than maybe a Scandinavian country, which is often talked about as the sort of the liberal prison utopia. I think the open prison system for me works because it provides really good incentives and really good opportunities. Incentives and opportunities are universal. Behavior is better because really if you got the opportunity to go home for five days every month and to get released, you will tend to behave better because you don’t lose that opportunity. If you’ve made it to open conditions you wouldn’t generally want to go back to closed conditions.
The opportunities to study and work, you know, generally speaking, I would say most prisoners would rather be going out earning a good wage, getting a change of scenery, or going to a college and studying than they would sit staring at the same four walls. I think all of that is going to be universally applicable and should work just as well in the U.S.
A challenge is almost certainly political. I think in the same way it is here, because we don’t really talk about the open prison system very much in the U.K. When it’s reported on in the press it’s normally because someone’s absconded or some guys have smuggled in some drugs or some alcohol and had a party, that sort of thing. Generally because there’s this desire for a prison to be punitive and vengeful, just as there is in the U.S., I think the justice establishment doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about or talking up the open prison system. I think the challenge, as you’ve said, is political. I think in the U.S. that the need is in the same way to actually convince people that it makes sense, that actually it’s a good, pragmatic, rational, and humane choice.
Phillip: I mean I love the interview because I did interview two guys from Norway and Sweden a few months back, and they talked about the Norwegian model. It’s crazy because a lot of delegates from America went over to Norway and toured those prisons. They actually came back and were saying they were implementing some of these models. Two years ago they told us that, and they haven’t even made a single change. Nothing seems to be changed since they said it. I just think that the prison-industrial complex is so entrenched because it’s more than just helping people to not come back to prison in this country. It’s about whole systems created for economics and people to have employment that they don’t have an incentive really to not build more prisons. I think it starts there when you make it hold local economies out of prison.
Once we once we figure that out, where there’s enough opportunity for people to still live and have a meaningful opportunity at life without using prisons as an economic system in a town I think we’ll be on a better par. They’re going to fight for it, and the lobbyists are going to try not to do away with it so long as so many people benefit from it. We have a unionized prison system here, and so since it’s unionized, they’re always going to talk about, “Oh, we need prisons! All these violent criminals and all these guns, and we gotta protect society.” So once we get rid of that, then I believe that will have a better conversation surrounding open prisons and how we can make it so that people don’t keep returning to prison from not having a lack of opportunity.
David: I think that’s a really interesting insight, because of course the open prisons employed far fewer people. On a typical housing block at Hollesley Bay, you might have 60 or 70 men living there, and there would only ever be one member of staff sitting in a little office to answers any queries people might have. Compare that to the staffing required for 70 men in a medium-security prison, it’s obviously very different, so I think that there’s less employment. Although perhaps if all those prisoners are going out to work in their local community, earn money to spend in the local community, there’s an economic argument in that direction.
Phillip: It was a pleasure having this discussion with you. I learned a lot about open prisons, as well as how some of the other levels of prisons are functioning in the U.K. I want to thank you, David, for speaking with me and sharing your experience. Hopefully, we can adopt the open prison model here in the U.S., and maybe we can do some work together, write some pieces or do some further interviews, I would love that. I appreciate you coming by and doing this, and I look forward to the next opportunity.
David: Thank you very much. It’s been a really great chat and fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the two systems, and I’d love to write something together about it.
Phillip: Most definitely. Leep your head up, man. Some people are really going to enjoy learning these things, because a lot of people don’t have that information at all.
David: I completely agree. Thank you so much.
Phillip: Alright, man, thank you, and take care.
Support The Appeal
If you valued this article, please help us produce more journalism like this by making a contribution today.