I walked with an inmate down to the visitor’s centre, which is situated on the island as you come off the ferry. This is a place that is a popular photo for both the staff and inmates at BastØy. He talked about family visits and the feeling of walking away from his loved ones at the end of the visit. He valued the opportunity for maintaining positive relationships but yearned to be with them whilst knowing that he would have to return to his room at BastØy alone. Below is a photo of the visitors centre. It contained some apartments for families to relax together, a small beach and a playground. I compare this with our visiting opportunities in English prisons. These stark large halls with benches, with visitor’s being searched, makes for a strained environment. The halls are under the watchful eye of the guards, seeing each hug as an opportunity for drugs to be passed between visitor and inmate, which is historically the case of concern. This environment is so off-putting that inmates in England regularly said to me that they never saw their children because the visiting experience was so bad, when subjected to this experience. In contrast, inmates are not supervised with their families and inmates were of the general opinion that they would not bring drugs into the prison because this would mean that would return to closed conditions. Inmates were not routinely searched when they returned off leave. Families were not generally searched upon arrival to the prison. There was trust and the risk of leaving BastØy and returning to a closed environment was a massive deterrent for the majority of inmates.
The academic literature consistently states that one of the main reasons why people move away from crime is attributed to creating meaningful relationships. I feel the lack of recognition of this is detrimental to the success of our prisons. As I am sure you agree on a general level, relationships matter. This is the same for people in prison. I believe we have so many missed opportunities in our prisons, which could make all the difference at very little cost.
This place is a place where relationships strengthen; where reasons to not return to prison are cemented. This is where bonds are built for the future. In this sense, it was the quality of the visit rather than the visit itself.