Chicago is at the heart of the prison abolition movement.

As abolitionists say, the movement doesn’t mean opening the prison cages right now, letting everyone out at once. Abolitionism envisions a society without prisons but with alternatives to punishment. It asks what models can be built for a more just society without feeding on violence, control, inequality, and racism. Realizing that visions take radical imagination, which sometimes means looking toward other places for models.

In Finland, there are a number of “open prisons.” Prisoners apply to be there and the facilities don’t have gates, locks or uniforms. Prisoners earn money, can go into town. They can also choose to study toward a university degree instead of working.

Finland realized incarceration is not the answer to social problems. The Nordic country used to have a high incarceration rate but the criminal justice system was re-examined and new policy was drafted, guided by research.

Incarceration did not result in less crime. Today, Finland has one of the lowest incarceration rates. It also has a “secret sauce.” It ranks high on gender equality, low on corruption. The judicial system is considered the most independent in the world. Personal levels of freedom are high and Finland is considered socially progressive and socially just.

Sounds perfect?

But now immigration is a dividing issue in the country, with African immigrants facing the highest levels of discrimination out of any European Union country.

This project aims to report a series of stories about Finland's prisons and their race issues that would be useful for Chicago as criminal justice reform continues to be a forefront issue in a racially divided city.

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