More funding for vocational programs in Swiss prisons to replace solitary confinement.

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What is solitary confinement?

Solitary confinement is the act of placing an inmate in a segregated, enclosed room for periods of up to 23 hours at a time. These inmates receive no human contact whatsoever. 

It has been proven that solitary confinement leads to permanent mental and emotional damage, extreme psychological problems and increased violent tendencies leading to detrimental effects. Prisoners can experience "Reduced Environmental Stimulation" (RES) also known as sensory deprivation. The main side effects of this include perpetual distortions, hallucinations, hyper-responsivity to external stimuli, aggressive fantasies, overt paranoia, inability to concentrate, and problems with impulse control. This is counter-productive and affects the person's chances of successful reintegration into society. Why subject inmates to this inhumane confinement if it will only worsen things? 

When and why are inmates placed in solitary confinement? 

- For punishment

Solutions: Mandatory work hours to give the prisoner a purpose and opportunity to learn something while still being punished since they are not being allowed to use their “free time” in pleasurable ways like other prisoners are. Required attendance in educational programs such as vocational training and/or anger management classes, to prevent poor behaviour in the future and to provide valuable skills. This solution is effective since it creates better-educated citizens who will one day enter back into society with the rest of us.

- For protection

Solutions: No inmate should be punished through solitary confinement for the purpose of being protected from other fellow inmates. A solution to this would be to sanction the inmate who is posing a threat to other prisoners. The suggested punishment for this kind of inmate is listed above. 

- For the mentally ill. 

Solutions: A human rights report issued in Switzerland has shown that an increasing number of mentally ill people has led to a shortage of at least 200 adequate places for therapeutic treatment. As a result, the mentally ill are mostly placed in normal penal institutions (often landing in solitary confinement). Such mentally ill persons in solitary confinement receive little to no therapy. There should be more funding going towards the provision of beds in psychiatric institutions and more psychologists being hired and brought into penal institutions.  

- Because of overcrowding

Solutions: The inmate should not be a victim to the institution's shortage of space, leading to his/her placement in solitary confinement units. The solution to such a problem of overcrowding would be to obtain more funding for larger prisons that have greater capacity.

What are the problems with Swiss prisons?

A Swiss Human Rights Report from 2016 stated that there were: 

"overcrowded prisons, isolation of prisoners up to 23 hours a day, inadequate health facilities in some prisons"

Overall solution: More funding is needed from taxpayers to in order to implement vocational programs which would substitute the use of solitary confinement. These vocational programs can reduce the number of inmates in already overcrowded prisons by sending them to external locations for training. 

What are vocational programs and what do they entail?

Vocational programs in prisons are educational in nature and improve opportunities for employment upon release. These programs usually include basic education such as math, social skills coaching and other counselling services. Working is a tool to help inmates to re-socialize while maintaining or improving their skills.

An offenders’ post-release career depends largely on the success of training received in prison. Offenders are victims of social deprivation and prison training programs could be considered as an attempt by society to right the wrongs. It has been proven that these programs reduce recidivism rates since this model is breaking the vicious cycle whereby an offender is discriminated against in the education and labour market, engages in criminal behaviour, is arrested, convicted, institutionalized, then released only to be discriminated against even more severely.

These programs are a worthwhile short and long term investment. In the short term, it saves money because prisoners are not in prison. They are instead in society engaging in training programs or working. In the long term, it is preventing young people from being socialized in criminal activities. Another long term effect is that society profits from additional skilled labour coming from prisoners who have been released since they become contributing members to the Swiss economy. 

Currently, Swiss prisons have some vocational programs in place:

•   Inmates can attend class for half a day per week (this, however, should be increased).

•   They receive letters of participation for future employers.

•   Apprenticeships & vocational training school prepares them for a job upon release.

•   Education and training is financed partly by charities. One should advocate for more money to be raised and/or more taxes to be used to finance these programs.

Restorative rather than retributive justice should be the priority. Rehabilitation and reintegration should be the motto for all prisons.

If you are over the age of 13 and you are legally allowed to be a resident in Switzerland, please help me generate enough votes to raise funding for these programs.

Thank you very much.


Susie Galarneau.