When America had an open prison – the story of Kenyon Scudder and his ‘prison without walls’
In a country with mass incarceration, horrific prison conditions and a penal system suffused with racism, some American prison reform activists wistfully look to Scandinavian institutions as beacons of humane prisons.
Many Scandinavian countries even have open prisons – minimum security institutions that rely less on force and more on trust. Some don’t even have a locked perimeter, and they emphasize rehabilitation and preparation for a return to society.
Back in the U.S., this might seem like an unattainable ideal.
But in California, nearly 80 years ago, there was an open prison.
As part of our work as human rights researchers who specialize in prisons, we were studying the United Nations resolution on open prisons, which was adopted in 1955 in Geneva. In a meeting prior to this resolution, penal experts discussed open prisons in the U.S., with the American delegate calling them “the contribution of this generation” to modern prison management.