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May 4, 2010

Norway's new prison sound far more pleasant than punishing

As detailed in this new Time magazine piece, which is headlined "Norway Builds the World's Most Humane Prison," the folks in the Land of the Midnight Sun have a different vision of incarceration than do folks in the Land of the Free.  Here are the details:

Ten years and 1.5 billion Norwegian kroner ($252 million) in the making, Halden is spread over 75 acres (30 hectares) of gently sloping forest in southeastern Norway.  The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits.  Unlike many American prisons, the air isn't tinged with the smell of sweat and urine. Instead, the scent of orange sorbet emanates from the "kitchen laboratory" where inmates take cooking courses.  "In the Norwegian prison system, there's a focus on human rights and respect," says Are Hoidal, the prison's governor. "We don't see any of this as unusual."

Halden, Norway's second largest prison, with a capacity of 252 inmates, opened on April 8.  It embodies the guiding principles of the country's penal system: that repressive prisons do not work and that treating prisoners humanely boosts their chances of reintegrating into society. "When they arrive, many of them are in bad shape," Hoidal says, noting that Halden houses drug dealers, murderers and rapists, among others.  "We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people."  

Countries track recidivism rates differently, but even an imperfect comparison suggests the Norwegian model works. Within two years of their release, 20% of Norway's prisoners end up back in jail. In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%. Of course, a low level of criminality gives Norway a massive advantage.  Its prison roll lists a mere 3,300, or 69 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.3 million in the U.S., or 753 per 100,000 — the highest rate in the world.

Design plays a key role in Halden's rehabilitation efforts.  "The most important thing is that the prison looks as much like the outside world as possible," says Hans Henrik Hoilund, one of the prison's architects.  To avoid an institutional feel, exteriors are not concrete but made of bricks, galvanized steel and larch; the buildings seem to have grown organically from the woodlands. And while there is one obvious symbol of incarceration — a 20-ft. (6 m) concrete security wall along the prison's perimeter — trees obscure it, and its top has been rounded off, Hoilund says, "so it isn't too hostile."

The cells rival well-appointed college dorm rooms, with their flat-screen TVs and minifridges. Designers chose long vertical windows for the rooms because they let in more sunlight.  There are no bars.  Every 10 to 12 cells share a living room and kitchen.  With their stainless-steel countertops, wraparound sofas and birch-colored coffee tables, they resemble Ikea showrooms.

Halden's greatest asset, though, may be the strong relationship between staff and inmates. Prison guards don't carry guns — that creates unnecessary intimidation and social distance — and they routinely eat meals and play sports with the inmates.  "Many of the prisoners come from bad homes, so we wanted to create a sense of family," says architect Per Hojgaard Nielsen.  Half the guards are women — Hoidal believes this decreases aggression — and prisoners receive questionnaires asking how their experience in prison can be improved.

There's plenty of enthusiasm for transforming lives.  "None of us were forced to work here.  We chose to," says Charlott-Renee Sandvik Clasen, a music teacher in the prison and a member of Halden's security-guard chorus.  "Our goal is to give all the prisoners — we call them our pupils — a meaningful life inside these walls."  It's warmth like that, not the expensive television sets, that will likely have the most lasting impact.

May 4, 2010 at 10:02 PM | Permalink


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What type of crime do I need to commit to get a life sentence there?

Posted by: Daniel | May 4, 2010 11:20:58 PM


Draw a cartoon depicting Mohammed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2010 12:00:29 AM

Why is the level of crime so low in Norway? Is it a function of their homogenous society? The difference is startling.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | May 5, 2010 12:17:15 AM

1) Norway is quite underlawyered, with a third the number of lawyers per population compared to the US. A major cause of crime, totally covered up, in developed nations? Lawyers.

2) If you look at US states with low fractions of minorities, their crime rates, including murder rates, are in Norway territory. The lawyer has withdrawn the protection of the law from the dark skinned crime victim. Why? To generate lawyer jobs.

Lynching by the KKK took 5000 lives over 100 years. The KKK was a lawyer founded and led fraternal organization with a strong business plan. They had flimsy pretexts, lynched, and seized property of productive members of minorities. Prosecutors and judges immunized this business plan or actively participated in it. Such a crazed, genocidal maniac scheme would not be possible today.

The lawyer has come up with a better scheme. Have an excess of 5000 murders of minorities, but each year, not over 100 years. Take the money from the taxpayer, a more reliable source of booty for the land pirate, in rent seeking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 5:05:39 AM

A table of the number of lawyers/1000 population of a state.


A table of the number of murders/100,000 by state.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 5:40:11 AM

So they teach inmates professional-level cooking skills or how to run a sound studio and encourage them to stay in touch with their families - God forbid when they leave prison they have a family to return to and job skills to earn a living instead of robbing you for gas money!

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 5, 2010 8:57:08 AM

It just goes to show you how successful one can be if you treat all individuals -- criminals included -- as humans. If the penal system in America were designed to reflect that a person is worth more than the worst thing they've ever done, then I'm convinced the recidivism rate would be drastically lowered.

Posted by: Vincent | May 5, 2010 11:24:19 AM

Why is Norway's crime rate so low? The country obviously treats its citizens like people rather than subjects that must obey or else. Their principles apply before and after arrest. Hench, less crime. It is easy to wonder which prison our prison guards would rather work in.

S.C. may be on to something this time, but it is not the lawyers. Maybe the real difference is between civil law and common law countries.

In some civil law countries, there has been a tradition of giving many legal tasks to a variety of civil law notaries, clerks, and scriveners.Richard L. Abel, "Lawyers in the Civil Law World," in Lawyers in Society: The Civil Law World, vol. 2, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 1-53 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 4. These countries do not have "lawyers" in the American sense, insofar as that term refers to a single type of general-purpose legal services provider;Walter O. Reyrauch, The Personality of Lawyers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 27. rather, their legal professions consist of a large number of law-trained persons, known as jurists, of which only some are advocates who are licensed to practice in the courts.Jon T. Johnsen, "The Professionalization of Legal Counseling in Norway," in Lawyers in Society: The Civil Law World, vol. 2, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 54-123 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 91.Kahei Rokumoto, "The Present State of Japanese Practicing Attorneys: On the Way to Full Professionalization?" in Lawyers in Society: The Civil Law World, vol. 2, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 160-199 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 164.

In contrast, several countries that began with a divided profession have since fused or united their legal profession into a single type of lawyer.Bastard, 299.Harry W. Arthurs, Richard Weisman, and Frederick H. Zemans, "Canadian Lawyers: A Peculiar Professionalism," in Lawyers in Society: The Common Law World, vol. 1, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 123-185 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 124.David Weisbrot, "The Australian Legal Profession: From Provincial Family Firms to Multinationals," in Lawyers in Society: The Common Law World, vol. 1, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 244-317 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 250.Georgina Murray, "New Zealand Lawyers: From Colonial GPs to the Servants of Capital," in Lawyers in Society: The Common Law World, vol. 1, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 318-368 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 324. Most countries in this category are common law countries, though France, a civil law country, merged together its jurists in 1990 and 1991 in response to Anglo-American competition.Anne Boigeol, "The Rise of Lawyers in France," in Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe, eds. Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, 185-219 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 208. In countries with fused professions, a lawyer is usually permitted to carry out all or nearly all the responsibilities listed below.


Posted by: George | May 5, 2010 12:10:44 PM

The difference is wise leaders who prize wisdom and vision above looking tough.

Posted by: John K | May 5, 2010 12:41:12 PM

George: Do you have any comment on the Norway like crime rates in US states with almost no dark skinned people? That needs to be addressed before moving on to differences in the legal systems. Before you do, you should assume that dark skinned people have a rate of antisocial personality disorder like that of white people, and that their substance abuse rates are slightly lower than those of white people. These assumptions about two major factors in crime rates are settled, with hundreds of studies in validation for each.

South America. Overlawyered, perhaps more than the US. Massive criminality, far worse than in our own rotating worst murder capitals. Civil code. Middle class people live in impregnable gated communities. Armed guards take the little kids to school.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 1:51:42 PM

You might wish to read this article oh Great Claus.


If you believe them the answer would be attitudes towards wealth redistribution. There is less crime in areas where there is a common attitude towards wealth redistribution (whatever that attitude might be) and higher crime in areas where there is a greater divergence in attitudes towards wealth redistribution.

In other words, even though Norway and white dominated states here embrace vastly different theories regarding wealth redistribution they are similar in the sense that the attitudes within each political entity towards wealth redistribution are homogeneous. This reduces crime. Meanwhile, in states where there are divergent attitudes towards wreath distribution crime rates will be higher.

Under this view high crime rates are, like war, simply "politics by other means."

Posted by: Daniel | May 5, 2010 3:00:14 PM

Daniel: Not great, average. I may seem great or diabolical to the benighted people here. I am an ordinary visitor from earth to this Twilight Zone lawyer world, stuck in the 13th Century. Analogy. An average Marine of 2010 travels back in time to the siege of a castle, in the 13th Century. He single handedly dispatches the defense in a half hour with modern weapons, and takes the castle in shock and awe. These weapons brief him about the location of the assets of the adversary from a satellite. They guide smart weapons to those assets. He seems all knowing, all powerful, despite being totally ordinary. Modernism makes him appear god like to people stuck in an era 800 years old.

First, I note the Harvard origin. That means I have no need to read it. I know the conclusion already. Blame America First hate speech devoid of data or logic. Biased garbage.

Let me still rebut it. Who here would rather be a rich person in Europe than a poor person in the US? Only a fool. Many graduates of elite educations have all chosen to remain as ordinary workers in the US, rather than accept offers of top power and leadership in their native countries. One such offer was of a dowry of $50 million consisting of an existing hospital network.

Go to the worst slum in the US, find the poorest family in the US. They sit on the toilet to go to the bathroom. They do not have to squat over a scary hole in the ground as my lady friend had to do in an expensive Paris restaurant. Say, one of them homeless people developed a bad cancer. They can walk into the clinic of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital, and get the treatments Kings have to travel thousands of miles to get, supervised by the same docs as supervise the care of the King. Say you have the same crash as Princess Diana. You will surely survive it well here in the poorest area of the United States, and have no hope of doing so in the richest section of Paris.

Say, one of the poorest kids is smart. But he lives in a really deprived area. He will immediately be spotted by the local school. He will be diverted to the top public education facility of the city or someone will pay his tuition to top private educations.

Are the poor here really poor? You should be thin if your are poor. Find me a kid thin from poverty. There is none. The lowest echelons have obesity as a major health problem. All the kids have the latest gadgets. Poverty in the US does not exist. It is the most privileged nation in the world and has the best equality of privilege and entitlement in the world.

Poverty in the US is a life style choice, like choosing between golf community or marina living. The poor aggregate in lifestyle communities where they can pursue the full time Roman Orgy lifestyle unmolested by Puritanical neighbors who will repeatedly call the police on their orgies of dope, sex, and violence.

Before anyone gets too huffy about the lifestyle of self-selected poor, who is the bigger fool? Someone who waits for decades to get gratification by working hard to get an education and to make a living. Or the person who for $5 gets the exact same rewarding sensation in 30 seconds with crack cocaine, all in the safety of a crack house. Sure you can try to meet, impress, please, and eventually bed a beautiful woman by impressing her with your muscles, achievement, kindness, and false pretenses of caring about her ideas. Or you can wave the pipe, and have 10 want you in 10 seconds. Who is the bigger fool?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 4:20:50 PM

"Under this view high crime rates are, like war, simply "politics by other means."

That is the left wing interpretation and elevation of criminality to revolutionary, heroic status. Most crime victims are also poor. There is no class struggle in crime. There is no redistribution of income. There is selfishness, presentism, and most of all lawyer forbearance, immunization, and enablement. Why? To generate lawyer jobs. The redistribution of income is from the hard earned assets of working people to the wallets of lawyers, at the point of a gun, that of the criminal, that of the government.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 4:55:22 PM

Supremacy, tell us how you really feel about Lawyers and the government.. Don't hold anything back.....La ti dah...

Posted by: Abe | May 5, 2010 5:28:28 PM

Abe: The government is a wholly subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. Of the 1% of the policy decisions not made by lawyers, but by elected officials, a lawyer is drafting the statute, writing the proposal, investigating for a report, anyway.

Those two entities are the same. A small hierarchy of about 15,000 people runs the criminal cult enterprise for its enrichment and empowerment.

If the public is oppressed, the lawyer is doubly so, and the judge outside the appellate elite is triply so. When it is taken down, the lawyer will thrive, and switch from rent seeking to the highly valuable, essential utility product, the rule of law, adding $trillions of value (profit) to the economy instead of plundering and taking it down.

I will tell you how I feel about the lawyer and the lawyer profession. I love them deeply, and am willing to sacrifice tears, sweat, hard labor, risk of assassination, of prison, to save it, to modernize it, and to make it succeed against the will of this hierarchy. You have no idea how bad you guys are. Really bad.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2010 6:04:48 PM

Then one could say, that 99% of them, give the rest of them a bad name..

Posted by: Abe | May 6, 2010 1:59:23 PM

Will Anders Breivik spend his life here, or does Norway not have LWOP?

Posted by: Ed Unneland | Jul 24, 2011 8:54:26 AM

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