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  • Certain things spring to mind when you think about prison...

  • Barbed wire, tiny jail cells, bars everywhere.

  • Well, not in Norway.

  • This is Halden prison, and it's the second-largest maximum security prison in Norway.

  • And it looks more like a resort than anything else.

  • But at 20%, Norway's recidivism rate is the lowest in Scandinavia, and one of the lowest in the world.

  • This is how Norway changed how we think about incarceration.

  • While Norway's two year recidivism rate is the lowest in the world, America's is one of the highest.

  • A 2014 study found 67 percent of American prisoners released in 30 states were re-arrested for a crime within three years, and 75 percent were re-arrested within five years.

  • While it is tough to make direct comparisons, Norway is doing something right when it comes to incarceration.

  • And it may come down to a fundamental difference in philosophy of what a prison should be.

  • Norway banned capital punishment in 1905.

  • 80 years later, they did away with life sentences.

  • And in 2007, a shift in thought: a focus on "restorative justice," emphasizing rehabilitation and normality over punishment.

  • What that means is when a prisoner is sentenced in Norway, the only thing they lose is their freedom, which is symbolized by these large prison walls.

  • Norway has two of what have been called "The Most Humane Prisons In The World."

  • One of them is Halden Prison, where prisoners can garden, learn to cook, and tend to animals.

  • They can also take vocational classes and prepare themselves for the outside world after they are released.

  • Halden holds 251 of its worst criminals, which includes rapists, murderers, and pedophiles.

  • In America, these criminals would be punished severely, kept in a small cell for most of the day with minimal time outdoors with all of their rights stripped.

  • The phrase "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" applies here.

  • Retribution must be swift and sure for those who decide to make a career of preying on the innocent.

  • America's decades-long war on crime has resulted in 159,000 people currently serving life prison sentences.

  • But in Norway, almost all prisoners are released.

  • The maximum sentence is 21 years.

  • At the end of the term, 5 year increments can be added indefinitely if it's assessed that the prisoner has not been rehabilitated.

  • Even the worst offenders, like Anders Brievik, who murdered 77 people in one of the worst massacres in history, is currently serving a 21 year sentence.

  • Norway also supports prisoners after they are released: they're provided housing, employment, health care, and addiction treatment.

  • All of this does not come cheap.

  • Halden prison spends more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 on average for prisoners in the United States.

  • But Norway incarcerates far fewer of their population.

  • As of 2014, just 0.08% of Norway's population was behind bars.

  • That's 75 per 100,000 people.

  • In the U.S., it's 707 for every 100,000 people or 0.7 percent.

  • And if the United States had the same rate of incarceration as Norway, it could spend as much as Norway does per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year.

  • That's the budget for the entire Department of Homeland Security.

  • No matter how many numbers are crunched on comparing recidivism rates, or thoughts on punishment versus rehabilitation, it comes down to how society views its prisoners.

  • Nelson Mandela said "It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails."

  • "A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but by its lowest ones."

  • If that's the case, Norway should be applauded for its humanity.

Certain things spring to mind when you think about prison...

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How Norway Reinvented Prison

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    Annie Chien posted on 2019/12/15
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