Sources

Norway's Alternative Prisons, Part Of Global Push To Innovate On Inmates

A new light is shining on the Norwegian penal system as terrorist Anders Behring Breivik demands (even) better treatment.

A mural on the wall of Halden prison in Norway
A mural on the wall of Halden prison in Norway
Julianne McShane

A three-room suite with sun-drenched windows, a treadmill and state-of-the-art electronics — no, this isn't some prized real estate for sale or an Airbnb listing, but rather a description of the prison cell of Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

The conditions may sound soft for a cold-blooded killer, and there is even more public outrage this week as Breivik has been granted a hearing after charging the state with inhumane treatment for keeping him in solitary confinement as he serves a 21-year sentence in Skien in southern Norway.

But beyond the unique circumstances of the Breivik case, Norway is a country committed to having a penal system focused on rehabilitation rather than pure punishment, according to The Guardian. In one facility, Bastoy Prison, the detainees live freely in one of a grouping of small homes on a private island. A maximum-security facility in Halden has been singled out for its policy of recreating life on the outside as an attempt to better integrate inmates when they are released.

The search for alternative correctional systems is by no means limited to Norway in a world where some 10.3 million people are currently being held in prisons, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

While the vast majority of inmates are still locked up behind traditional steel bars, others enjoy the perks of being prisoners in an era when a focus on incarceration reform is pushing some prison officials to rethink standard approaches to punishment: Some French prisoners hold keys to their own cells, inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines take mandatory dance classes, while the Justizzentrum Prison in Austria was built with attention to maximizing the natural light for inmates.

Administrators are finding that alternative forms of incarceration — and oftentimes, those that are specifically guided by an emphasis on mutual respect between prisoners and supervisors — result in happier, less violent prisons. In the ongoing fight against recidivism, the logic for society as a whole is a truism that reads like a paradox: Better living conditions for the prisoner increase the chance that he won't come back.

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