(Work in progress) How Scandinavia is Winning With Their Prison Systems

Art in Halden Prison, Norway done by Norwegian artist "Dolk" [photo]

In Scandinavia, there are thousands of people living their everyday lives quite mundanely. They wake up and fall asleep in a small-ish sized bedroom with a television and cell phone, they go eat a wholesome meal with a friend, they attend classes to educate themselves, go to work, and they practice some of their hobbies such as sports, cooking or art. These people are treated fairly as any other human has the right to be, and they live their lives awfully similar to the average person. The only thing that separates them from the general public, is that they’re convicts.

Countries such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland have done something which most countries quiver at the thought of. They treat criminals like human beings because they are human beings. What a strange concept. Unlike prisons in North America per example which torture and penalize their inmates, Scandinavian countries take a kinder approach. Their goal is to Trust goes both ways with inmates and guards, and they are encouraged to be friends. Prison sentences for them are at a maximum of 21 years, and research shows that most people spend less than 14 years in jail. [1] Life imprisonment (a quite rare occasion) is restricted to the military penal code, and the death penalty is non-existent. Prison officials have said that the only punishment they care to inflict on their inmates is the relinquishment of their freedom in society. [2]

“A lot of the staff when we started out came from other prisons in Norway,” Stromnes said. “They were a little bit astonished by the trees and the number of them. Shouldn’t they be taken away? And what if they climb up, the inmates? As we said, Well, if they climb up, then they can sit there until they get tired, and then they will come down.” -- Jan Stronmes, assistant warden at Halden Penitentiary in Halden, Norway to New York Times (2015) [3]

While managing to have the lowest crime rates globally, Scandinavian countries treat their convicts humanely and prepare them for a successful life once they leave prison. Norway’s estimated prison population in 2016 was 3,874 [4] while the United States houses over 2 million people in correctional facilities, making them the highest in the world. [5] In fact, the U.S. has more people incarcerated than there are living in any state capital besides Phoenix, Arizona. [6] Norway also has a re-conviction rate of 20%, making it the lowest globally as well. [7] If these countries can prove that treating human beings who have committed a felony with respect, kindness, and decency can diminish crime overall, it is quite perplexing to think that other countries cannot do the same. As one of the largest, most modernized and developed first world countries, the United States of America needs to soon change the way their convicts are treated and rehabilitated in order to fix their staggering crime rates overall.

In the rural yet eerily picturesque outskirts of Halden, Norway, deep in twelve acres of a blueberry forest sits a penitentiary like no other. Coined as “the world’s most humane jail”, Halden Prison, a male maximum security facility, houses around 250 of Norway’s most brutal inmates. Treated better than most university students living in residence, the men at Halden surely make every other convict in America envious. Journalists and reporters that have gone to visit the penitentiary always seem to leave feeling inspired and uplifted -- a feeling which most would never dream of feeling in jail. Built in 2010, the prison was designed by Norwegian design groups Erik Møller Architects and Norwegian HLM Arkitektur AS, which were selected in a competition held by the Norwegian Department of Justice. There are beautiful pieces of art scattered around the grounds, and the interiors are decorated with strategically selected colors and materials.

                                                   Art in Halden Prison done by Norwegian artist "Dolk" [photo]

“Project intentions and main grips are based on two dependent contradictions; hard and soft. The hard represents the son, the deprivation of liberty. The soft represents the idea of ​​rehabilitation. The project has extremely high complexity and contains most of the most important functions in society.”-- HLM Arkitektur AS on their website feature page about their design in Halden Prison [8]
"A card game between inmates" By CreditKnut Egil Wan, New York Times [photo]

It is scientifically proven that your surroundings have an enormous impact on your mood, actions, and health. Therefore, instead of cooping a large group of convicts in a small building with drab surroundings, the designers of Halden made a livable, pleasant space for their inmates to temporarily live in.


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