Chester County Prison to Test Swedish-Style Inmate Units

By Adam Hermann, Philly Voice

The Chester County Prison will put new grant money towards testing a new kind of prison unit, one focused on a prisoner-first approach that Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary hopes can help reform the prison system.

BART BOATWRIGHT/THE GREENVILLE NEWS VIA USA TODAY NETWORK   Pennsylvania will test a new kind of inmate-focused prison housing unit in Chester County later this year, styled after Sweden and Norway's more progressive prison systems.

BART BOATWRIGHT/THE GREENVILLE NEWS VIA USA TODAY NETWORK

Pennsylvania will test a new kind of inmate-focused prison housing unit in Chester County later this year, styled after Sweden and Norway's more progressive prison systems.

John Wetzel, who has served as the state’s secretary of corrections since 2011, is using $163,000 in new grant money to send a dozen staff members to Sweden and Norway to research the Scandinavian countries’ prisons. The grants, announced last week, come from the Vera Institute of Justice, and the organization's Restoring Promise initiative.

When the staff members return from the trip this summer, they’ll be in charge of establishing a new housing unit at Chester County Prison, according to WESA, similar to previously successful prison units in Connecticut, among others.

At similar housing units in Connecticut, inmates were allowed to paint their cells, attend programs where they learn skills, both career-focused and creativity-focused, and have a back-and-forth conversations with their supervisors and “unit managers” about living conditions and experiences.

The goal of the program will be to research if a different approach to corrections can help reduce the recidivism rate in the United States, as it has overseas. Staff members will randomly assign inmates to the new housing unit.

Nearly two years ago, Wetzel toured prison facilities in Sweden and Norway, and also Germany.

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