Norway is taking the lead in Europe when in it comes to prison reform and rehabilitation, according to Emma Jane Kirby of the BBC.
The country has moved away from just locking people up and throwing away the key, to an approach of cutting the prison population and finding ways to stop the reoffending rates.
“In Norway, the punishment is just to take away someone’s liberty. The rights stay. Prisoners can vote; they have access to school, to health care; they have the same rights as any Norwegian citizen because inmates are human beings. They’ve done wrong; they must be punished, but they are still human beings,” said Are Hoidal, the prison governor of Norway’s Haiden Prison.
Part of the process of Haiden’s rehabilitation program is daily exercise. Prisoners work out alongside staff, who participate in the same exercises. It is therapeutic for staff and prisoners alike, according to the article.
Bonding and forming a partnership between staff and inmate helps tone down violence, and let the prisoner get used to doing things that he or she did not do while living a criminal lifestyle, explained Hoidal.
The maximum security prison at Halden was built to ease and minimize prisoners’ fears and stress and to put them in natural surroundings. At a cost of 138 million Euros to build, prisoners can enjoy the blueberry woods, silver birch and pine trees surrounding them.
The two-story buildings were built to look more like a college environment than a prison, according to the article.
There are no bars on the windows. Every prisoner has his own cell, which comes with a flat screen TV, a desk, kitchenette with refrigerator and a shower stall and commode.
The prison has state of the art vocational programs, and one can take college exams in math and physics, and some have received diplomas. Inmate Fredrik is working towards his master’s in graphic design while serving a 15-year sentence for murder.
“If you don’t have opportunities, and you are just locked in a cage, you don’t become a good citizen.” Fredrik told reporter Kirby, as he adjusted the colors on one of the photos on his screen. “Here there are good opportunities; you can have a diploma, and when you come out, you can maybe get a stable job, and that’s important.”
Another aspect of prison life in Norway that differs from the U.K., is that it takes correctional officers two years to complete their training. In the U.K., it only takes three months. The Norwegian candidates train at a university college specifically for correctional service. Only 175 trainees out of 1,200 become prison officers, according to Hans-Jorgen Brucker who oversees their training.
“We want to stop reoffending, which means officers need to be well educated,” said Brucker. “My students will study law, ethics, criminology, English, reintegration and social work. Then they will have a year training in a prison, and then they will come back to take final exams.”
The country moved away from the punitive approach more than 20 years ago. There are no life sentences, and the recidivism rate has dropped dramatically over the years, according to the article.
The prison has “daddy” days for those who pass a safeguard test, and then the prisoners can spend a couple of days with their family in a small cottage on prison grounds.
Hoidal said he can’t remember the last time they experienced violence in Haiden Prison.
“In Norway, all will be released—there are no life sentences,” Hoidal reminded the reporter.
“So we are releasing your neighbor. If we treat inmates like animals in prison, then we will release animals on your street.”