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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 per prisoner 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 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.
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How Norway Reinvented Prison

2089 Folder Collection
Annie Chien published on November 20, 2019    Annie Chien translated    Steve reviewed
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