You wake up in your room on a Sunday morning, take a nice, warm shower and put on your fluffy socks and outfit of the day. After watching an episode of your favorite show you walk out the door to get some breakfast. Upon eating a filling breakfast, you decide to head over to the volleyball court to play with friends. After a while, you decide to head to the gym, on the way there you walk past the music studio where your friends are recording their new song. You make your way over to the gym where you work out for a couple of hours before heading back to your room and taking another shower. You then head out for dinner. As soon as you finish eating you decide to go back to your room to go to sleep since you have to wake up early to go to work early the next morning.
Although this seems like a dream day for any normal person, it is the reality for the average Norwegian prisoner. Norway is considered to have some of the most humane prisons in the world and its criminal justice system allows for the lowest recidivism rates in Europe. This is because instead of punishing the criminals for the crimes they committed, Norway focuses on rehabilitating them and prepares them for a better life after prison. Due to there not being a life sentence in Norway, most of their prisoners will eventually be let back into society. More than 89% of jail sentences in Norway are shorter than one year, compared to the United States where less than 2% serve a sentence that is a year long or shorter. Therefore Norwegian prisons want to let out someone who is motivated to live a life free of crime. instead of someone who is longing for revenge on the state.
Norway rehabilitates its inmates by treating them as humanely as possible, Even the prisoners who have committed the most horrible crimes in Norway are still seen as human beings, and treated accordingly. Their punishment does not exceed a lack of freedom, and they still keep the rest of their rights as Norwegian citizens, such as voting, education, and healthcare. In addition, their rooms are built to feel like a home instead of a cell. Of course, the standard of a cell depends on which prison you look at, however, take Halden prison as an example, there, each cell is fully equipped with a bed, a small fridge, their own private bathroom, a tv, desk, and a chair. However, the feeling of comfort and home does not only lie in the cells of the inmates but also the rest of the prison. In Halden prison, there is a music studio called Criminal Records where the inmates can produce and record music, a grocery store called Justisen which translates to The Justice where the prisoners can buy anything they might need with their monthly allowance. There is also a library, a gym, a library, a family visiting room, a computer room, and a volleyball court where the prisoners often play with each other and other inmates. To reduce the feeling of living in captivity for the prisoners, the prison walls do not have barbed wire. The prison was built in the middle of the woods, therefore, the architect of the prison incorporated a lot of nature into the design of the prison, there are trees, berries, bushes and natural terrain inside the prison walls.
The prisons in Norway also offer drug treatment programs for inmates who suffer from any kind of drug addiction, to help them stay away from drugs once they’re released from prison. Norway does not only offer drug rehabilitation programs inside of prison, but they also have a program called The Narkotikaprogram, this program is offered to convicted drug users who can choose to sign up for, instead of going to prison. Norway’s goal for this program is to decrease drug-related misconducts and deaths since the country has the second to highest amount of people dying of drugs or drug-related incidents in the EU, with 69.6 to every million, only coming after Estonia.
Having a job is believed to be a major factor in decreasing recidivism, therefore all prisoners in Norwegian prisons have the right to receive an education while in prison, which increases their chances of getting a job upon their release. Most inmates are even forced to have jobs while still in custody, some being in-prison jobs, like making food, packing boxes, cleaning, or other jobs the prison might offer, and some in normal workplaces like grocery stores or bakeries. The prison also offers courses to teach the inmates many different sorts of life skills that they may need once they are released, such as cooking classes, assembly workshops, and woodworking courses.
The effects of these unique methods can be seen already while the prisoners are still serving their sentences. In an interview conducted by The Guardian, prison governor for Halden Prison, Are Hoidal says that there is rarely any violence in the prison, and he claims to not even remember the last time there had been a fight. There are no warning signs about picking up hitchhikers around Halden prison because no inmate has ever tried to escape the prison.
Considering Norway’s criminal justice system is so focused on bettering the lives of criminals it is no surprise that Norway is home to the first and only ever full-island prison, Bastoy prison. This is a prison that is built entirely on an island in Horten Norway, just south of Oslo. On this island, prisoners have their own houses with their door that the prisoners themselves decide when should be opened and closed. The island is home for 115 prisoners and it has 70 employees. On the island, you will find a church, a grocery store, a school, a library, a dock, NAV (government social services), a lighthouse, beach zones, a football field, agricultural land, and more. All prisoners on the island are forced to go to work or school every day, this could be on the island or on the outside. There are about 15 people on average at all times who work or study outside the island. They take the ferry from and back to the island every day. Dan oyvind Helle, a previous inmate at Bastoy prison, says “ it [ Bastoy Prison ] is a unique place to serve your sentence because here you are given many opportunities if you are genuinely interested in doing something with your life ”, he also says that is is a much easier transition back into society after serving a sentence in a prison like Bastoy compared to a normal prison.
All of these luxuries do not come for free, a prison like Halden Prison costs 250 million dollars just to build, and another 93 thousand dollars per inmate every year, which is three times more than the average cost of a prisoner in the United States. These prisons are funded partially by the Norwegian citizen’s tax money, which is much higher than most other countries in Europe. In addition to Norwegian taxes being so high, when buying any purchased goods in Norway, consumers pay a 25% VAT tax, which except for the other countries in Scandinavia, only Hungary has a higher rate. However, all of these taxes do not go to funding Norwegian prisons, the money also funds free health service, free state education, and cheap child care, all of these factors are believed to be major contributors to Norway being ranked second on the world happiness reports from 2015 to 2017.
Some may argue that it is unjust that lawful citizens have to pay for criminals to live in what may be considered a luxury, considering some of the prisoners have committed horrible crimes like rape and murder. However, low recidivism rates mean lower crime rates, which benefits the citizens of Norway by making Norway a safer place to live. Furthermore less theft and robberies will lead to grocery stores profiting more, which allows for lower prices on purchased goods.
People might say that the low recidivism rates in Norway are not a result of the way prisoners are treated in prison, but if you compare Norway now to Norway 40 years ago it is easy to see a difference. Norway’s recidivism rates have not always been this low. Back in the 1980s the prisons were completely different and quite similar to how American prisons are today, with a system focusing on harsh punishment instead of rehabilitating treatment of prisoners. This system lead to many riots, violent outbreaks, an exceptionally high number of attempted and successful escapes, and even deaths inside of the prisons. During this time, Norway’s recidivism rates were sky high, with 80% of felons reoffending after being released from jail, this is the same as the current recidivism rate in the United States.
In the early 1990s Norway’s Correctional Service made many changes to the Norwegian criminal justice system, with a new aim to focus on rehabilitating the criminals and trying to help them, instead of punishing them. Since these new rules and strategies have been implicated, Norway’s recidivism rates have dropped to only 20%, which is the lowest criminal reoffending rate reported in the entire world. In addition, prisons have become more peaceful and violence is something you rarely see.