University student spends six weeks at Bastoy Prison Island


Sarah Lewis from the University of Portsmouth spent six weeks undertaking research on Bastoy Prison Island – the first ecological prison in the world and home to every category of prisoner regardless of offence, serving up to 21 years. 


Sarah Lewis documented her experience at Bastoy Prison Island and was featured in the February 2016 edition of InsideTime:

As soon as I stepped onto the island the first thing I was aware of was the overpowering sense of hope. The atmosphere was so calm. I walked around, chatting to prisoners and staff and the more I saw the stronger the desire I had to share what I had found with the wider public – with the world. This was so obviously such an exceptional place.

One of the most striking aspects of what I found was the shared mentality between guards and prisoners. Relationships were clearly important to the success of the community – not just prisoner to prisoner – but the whole community, authorities and those in their charge – all valued their relationships with each other. What really struck me was that the shared mentality of the whole focus of the Bastoy experience was on rehabilitation. It was so much more than reducing re-offending rates. Although this is vitally important – what really mattered here was allowing people to grow, and to become who they wanted to be, who they thought they should be. This was the most obvious reason for Bastoy having the lowest re-offending rate in Europe at just 16 per cent.

The prisoners and the staff were keen to talk and to share what they were experiencing. I soon knew that what I found would change me and that it would spur my hope and belief in the future for how we would want any prison to aspire to being.

There were such strong connections being made with the environment, with animals, with nature – all in preparation for the ultimate connection with society. Feeling free in prison was crucial and uniquely I guess in a prison, having the opportunity to practice being free. The main things I found were the importance of creating opportunities where prisoners felt ‘normal’ – providing quality opportunities to develop relationships with other prisoners and staff, family and friends, the environment and society.

It was important that prisoners had responsibility and agency and had meaningful work and were able to contribute to something worthwhile – it was about creating a connection with nature and having time to reflect. The more normal I saw people being treated the more normal – or socially appropriate they behaved. There was no culture of stigma at being a prisoner. While I, and any reasonable person, would want to see justice being served in our criminal justice system – it seems to me that we need to temper the need for justice with the need to use prison as a means of creating fewer victims of people released from prison. That is real justice.

Not a single prisoner I met had any desire to go back to the person they had been before stepping onto Bastoy Island. It is a model that I believe would work anywhere – a regime that would work even in a closed prison. One day I would like to see this approach being utilised in a British setting. That is my hope.

Source: Inside Time - Sarah Lewis

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