June 2022

A selection of news stories from around the world looking at developments in US, Finnish and Zimbabwean prisons.


There are thousands fewer people in Wisconsin’s prisons than before the pandemic

There were 23,167 people in Wisconsin’s prisons on March 20, 2020, three days before all visits were suspended in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid.

Two years later, the state’s prison population has fallen to the lowest level in decades, a sign of the pandemic’s far-reaching impact on the criminal justice system. The number of people in Wisconsin’s prison stood at 19,878 as of April 1, about 3,000 fewer than before the pandemic.

There are a variety of reasons for the decline in the state’s prison population, including fewer arrests being made across the state, criminal cases taking longer in the courts and, ultimately, fewer people being admitted to prison.

Wisconsin isn’t alone, either. There are about 1.9 million people in prisons and jails across the country right now, almost 400,000 fewer than there were before the pandemic, according to a report released last month by the Prison Policy Initiative.

But the decline in the prison populations across the country largely weren’t the result of any intentional efforts by prison officials, as many advocates had hoped, said Wanda Bertram, of the Prison Policy Initiative. Instead, it was an unintentional consequence of the pandemic.

“Even states that released large numbers of people during the pandemic did not really release that many more people than they normally do,” she said. “Most states actually released fewer people.”


Authorities launch AI project to modernise Finnish prison labour

The Criminal Sanctions Agency (CSA) plans to help prisoners improve their digital skills with a project rolling out in four Finnish prisons.

The year-long trial in Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Sukeva and Turku will involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI), offering prisoners skills that they need in modern work and study environments.

“Teaching artificial intelligence is easy in a closed environment and it does not require a large space or investment. It can be taught in a short time, which allows prisoners serving a short sentence to participate as well. It can be motivating for prisoners to participate in a more modern labour activity than we’ve been able to offer previously,” senior specialist Satu Rahkila explained.

The work offered to prisoners will focus on the Finnish construction field and teach them how to find information on documents through repetitive tasks and questions. The prisoners will receive the standard prison labour compensation for their work in the AI project.

By modernising prison labour, the CSA aims to equip prisoners with the technical skills they need in order to secure work in the modern job market and to help them better integrate into society.

In their press release, the agency added that a previous trial on artificial intelligence training for prisoners had yielded positive results, confirming the suitability of such work within the prison environment.


Zimbabwe prisons bring back ‘Family Week’

The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) is set to reintroduce Family Week as part of efforts to successfully reintegrate incarcerated inmates into society.

Family Week had been suspended due to the advent of Covid and will make a return from mid to late April in all prisons across the country.

ZPCS’s Chief Superintendent Meya Khanyezi said although Covid was still ongoing, rehabilitation is a process which requires the participation of the community.

“We’ve realised that rehabilitation is a process whereby you need the participation of the community because after the expiry of one’s sentence, the person will go back to his or her family. We don’t want to cut ties but to make sure that family bonds don’t fade. In as much as we have prison visits, those visits are limited and controlled but family week will run for five days and inmates will be given an opportunity to receive multiple visitors and they’ll be allowed to be seated and eat as a family.

It is good for inmates to hear what’s happening within their families.”