“If you don’t change the prison staff and the prison culture, you cannot change the prisoners”
For over a century now, Norway has earned a reputation for its progressive reforms in its prisons. Not without its fair share of criticism, Norway has subverted the conventional beliefs and philosophies which guide prisoner treatment, sentencing, and even the architectural design of facilities, with powerful results.
With Norway sporting one of the lowest recidivism rates globally, at 20%, compared with 76.6% of prisoners re-offending within 5 years in the United States — It is safe to say that their innovations have proven to be genuinely proactive in the treatment of prisoners.
Deviant, and no opportunity for otherwise
It now seems bizarre that the ubiquitous focus of prisons globally has been principally concerned with the past — Prisoners were, and are, very much treated under the assumption that reintegration is rarely achievable, and so the idea of preparing inmates to re-enter the social world was, and is, disregarded.
A note to mention is that this ideology of stagnation, once routed in the collective mindset of the prisoners, leaves little room for aspirations of improving situations and transcending negative patterns of behavior.
Imagine if you were punished & treated as if you would never again be a member of society; it would be a demotivating and demoralising situation and one that would no doubt inhibit your motivation for self-improvement.
Behind the bars of Norway’s Philosophy
In more traditional prison environments, for which the United States’ prison system seems the most epitomising example, prisoners are firstly all sent to the same institutions except for extremely serious crimes. This means that prisoners who have committed less serious crimes are in proximity to those who have committed much more serious crimes. They are viewed as symmetrical deviants, and face notoriously poor treatment, experiencing isolation while being starved of all rights and liberties.
The fundamental philosophy behind this humanising dimension of Norweigan prison systems is that the prisoner already has massive limitations to their freedom through incarceration, and advancing this neglection is simply detrimental to recovery.
From 2007 onwards, an ambitious transition to the driving force underlying the Norweigan approach was validated. This carefully reconsidered the goals from the onset, being reintegration and rehabilitation-focused.
Replicating the outside world
Norway’s prisons are spacious, each prisoner has their own room, weekends off work are granted and facilities are heavily invested in to give inmates real opportunities to build relationships, develop skills and continue to live humanely. Prisoners are even allowed the keys to their own rooms, guiding when they choose to close off for the night.
This variety of humanising features intends to give prisoners a sense of personhood, and more so, a sense of control over their lives. It would be difficult to see why a prisoner would cause trouble when inside, given the extremely liberal treatment they receive.
The prisons are designed to simulate communities. From an architectural perspective, some of these prisons even feature detached housing and facilities, meaning prisoners have to embark on short commutes between activities. This solidifies and structure a healthy routine, along with replicating the necessity of travel that both the outside world requires, and other prisons strictly prohibits.
Norway’s prisons greatly reduce the social deficit prisoners must pay when they rejoin society, through preparation and development on personal & social levels.
Halden prison is home to those prisoners who have committed some of the most serious crimes. It also has been called one of the most humane prisons in the world — This seems somewhat baffling from the gates, but once inside, it is clear to see this humanising philosophy in effect.
Equity seems to be another leading characteristic of treatment — If prisoners are lacking education, they have various opportunities to catch up. Moreover, the prisons offer services for substance abuse and mental health as well as other rehabilitative schemes. Their days are structured and supporting, friendly staff concrete the statement Norway is pushing; the limitations to freedoms and rights for each prisoner only extends as far as putting that person in prison, following that, the focus really is on personal growth.
As Society continues in its perpetual developments, warping and changing ideas and values on a massive scale, a prison system that allows its prisoners to grow and develop in parallel is essential if seek reintegration. Norway’s prisons decrease the social deficit prisoners must repay when they rejoin society, leading to a significantly less stressful transitional period of reintegration.