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Inmates better-behaved during prison furloughs

Fewer prisoners are violating the terms of furloughs from prison. Last year about four percent of inmates granted leave broke the strict rules governing the practice. The most common infractions were returning late or intoxicated.

Jarmo Eronen
Jarmo Eronen, who spent 12 years behind bars himself, now helps prisoners cope during brief forays into the outside world. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

Correctional facilities report fewer violations of the terms of furloughs from prison. Last year some four percent of inmates granted leave broke the strict rules governing the practice. Last year there were 471 cases of rules violation out of a total of about 12,300 furloughs granted.

Such leaves are granted, for instance, to attend a funeral or visit a gravely-ill person. They are also aimed at helping inmates keep up their support network outside prison with an eye to improving their chances of re-integrating into society upon their eventual release.

Some prisoners are accompanied by guards when making out-of-prison visits on compassionate grounds, for instance. Others who meet strict criteria may be allowed out on their own. Many of these request companionship from KRIS, the Finnish branch of CRIS (Criminals’ Return Into Society), an international non-profit group that operates in eight European countries. The organisation started in Sweden nearly 20 years ago.

"A hell of an experience"

Jarmo Eronen, an ex-con who is now prisoner work coordinator at KRIS of Southern Finland, often meets prisoners who are let out on leave at the prison gate, at their request. He says that they are often nervous and even frightened, especially if it is their first taste of liberty in years.

"If you're serving a long sentence, it's a hell of an experience to be out in a city shopping and taking care of errands when you don't know anything about contemporary society. When you're used to being in a safe environment behind walls, the world is a pretty scary place at that moment," he tells Yle.

Furloughed prisoners are acutely aware that any violation of the rules or regulations will make it much less likely that they will be given another such chance or considered for early release. And indeed, in recent years, they have tended to behave better while out on leave. Whereas in the year 2000, rules were broken during more than eight percent of furloughs, last year that rate was down to four percent. Most often this involves returning late and/or intoxicated.

Individual plans for period of incarceration

Esa Vesterbacka, director of the Criminal Sanctions Agency, attributes the improvement to more individualised, precise plans drawn up with each prisoner regarding his or her period of incarceration. He says that leave is partly intended to help prepare inmates for their return to civilian life.

"The fact that prisoners are able to get out of the facility during their sentences, are able to maintain contact with their loved ones, have hope and a chance to improve their skills while incarcerated, and then undergo this kind of step-by-step liberation – without a doubt these all improve security for society as a whole," says Vesterbacka.

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