Finland transformed its criminal justice system 70 years ago. Now the country is investing in technology that offers inmates pathways back to society.
- At "open prisons" in Finland, inmates come and go in vehicles, attend work and school, and can host overnight guests.
- And Finland is investing millions of euros in high-tech prisons with educational programs that teach inmates the basics of AI and other technologies.
- Finland has been named the happiest country in the world, and it has one of the lowest incarceration rates in Europe.
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Finland has been rated the happiest in the world for three consecutive years. Citizens of the Scandinavian nation enjoy general public benefits: universal healthcare, subsidized daycare, and free college tuition.
So perhaps it's no surprise that the Finland's prisoners are some of the happiest as well.
In Finland's "open prison" system, there are no gates or locks — inmates come and go in their own cars. Instead of cell blocks with bars or glass windows, inmates stay in dormitories equipped with internet access and for fun, prison they can take recreational dips in a frozen lake.
Prisoners at more conventional "closed" prisons can apply to stay at one of Finland's 11 open prisons. And advocates say this model is instrumental for rehabilitating prisoners and reducing their chances of winding up behind bars again after their release.Smart Prison Project
A reimagining of what prison looks like in Finland started nearly 70 years ago, when the country began building one of the most human prison systems in the world. In some of its latest steps, Finland's criminal sanctions agency is investing heavily in technology training.
At the open prison in Laukaa, an inmate nicknamed Matti is splitting time between a nearby university and his dorm, where he's studying for a post-prison career in tech — he's already completed a free online course called "Elements of AI." While he serves out his murder sentence, he's hoping to complete a university degree and start a business.
"At the beginning of my sentence, I thought that there can only be negative things in being in prison. That basically life is over," Matti told Business Insider Weekly. "But I think you should give people a chance. That's the most important thing."
The Finnish government estimates that keeping prisoners at open facilities like Laukaa costs about 30% less than at a closed prison.
Over at the Turku closed prison, a prisoner named Mika is testing VR equipment and learning the basics of working with computers.
"It would be good to get some teaching," Mika said. "There are prisoners who have been free and come back, and they've said very straight that you can't manage, that everything is so different, everything is so computerized."
And at least one Finnish company is taking it further: AI startup Vainu pays prisoners to train its algorithms. About 250 prisoners currently do work for Vainu, earning between 10 cents to $3 an hour to perform tasks like labeling company names in business articles.
It's one of the many ways Finland is helping inmates restart their lives after imprisonment.
We try to educate the prisoners to use digital services in a meaningful way so that it would really help them to rehabilitate, help them take care of themselves and take care of their daily affairs," Puolakka said. "And the kind of things the kind of skills that you need when you reintegrate back to society."