FOCUS on Prison Conditions: Norway

By Daniel D’Amico

Prison conditions in Norway are relatively humane, and the same can be said for various Scandinavian countries. Many are known for their low number of prisoners and comfortable conditions in which they live. In particular, Norway has one of the world’s most humane prisons.

Norway boasts very low prisoner rates compared to other countries. For instance, Scotland has over 7,000 inmates in 16 jails while Norway has just over 3,500 prisoners held in 50 prisons. The countries have comparable population sizes. Those in Norway accredit these low rates to the way in which their prisons are run.

At the Bastoy Prison in Bastoy Island south of Oslo, prisoners have the opportunity to engage in various recreational activities such as fishing and tennis. The Guardian reported, “Michael Moore, the American film director, had wanted to feature the prison in one of his documentaries, but thought that absolutely no one would believe that he was really filming in a jail.”

Halden Prison is said to be one of the most humane prisons in the world. It capitalizes on comfort, and the rooms are decorated like those of a typical home to prepare prisoners for outside life. Also, they have kitchens to cook in and free time to play games. The officers’ role there is very crucial to the improvement of prisoners as well. According to Time Magazine, “their official job description says they must motivate the inmate ‘so that his sentence is as meaningful, enlightening and rehabilitating as possible,’ so they frequently eat meals and play sports with prisoners.”

The crucial difference in prisons in Norway compared to most other countries is that prisoners in Norway are treated like citizens. This gives them the opportunity to enjoy luxuries while at the same time living separately from others. They know that they did something wrong and go to jail, but they are prepared for their release in such a way that they are unlikely to repeat their offences.

Prisons are also not a political issue in Norway, and it is part of the reason that they have been able to gather such widespread support. Their low prison rates, according to Professor Thomas Mathiesen, a leading voice on European prison reform, “reflect a ‘moderate social system’ in Norway.” This results in a lesser socioeconomic divide between citizens in the country.

While the method in which they deal with their prisoners may seem good, it cannot work in places such as the United States. This is due largely to the differing economic system. In an article from the Cheatsheet, “any government action […] will be subject to the vigorous push and pull of this debate.” Without public support, a prison reform this large could not happen. It is also impossible because of the relationship between inequality and crime that exists in the U.S. Additionally, it is mostly immigrants who make up the population of jails in Norway.

Prison systems and prisoner treatment in Norway yields positive results as recidivism rates are very low in Norway among other Scandinavian countries. The social and economic conditions in Norway make this kind of treatment possible whereas it is not possible in other countries. 

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