Retired superintendent James Conway is a 38-year veteran of the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. But he spent none of that time pitying his inmates.
“It was your actions that put yourself here,” he said, referring to the prisoners. “Who cares how they feel?”
Well, Conway experienced quite a shock when he visited Halden Prison, one of the newest correctional facilities in Norway.
“I’m having a hard time believing that I’m in a prison,” he said.
First, Conway (left) took a tour of the prison grounds. “Jan, it would appear that you’ve chosen to construct your prison in a forest and in a mountain area. Can you offer any explanation as to why that would be?” Conway inquires.
The architect suggested to “keep as much of the nature as possible,” Stromnes (right) explained. That way, inmates could serve under normal conditions — one of the key principles in the Norwegian prison system.
Conway had no response.
Next, the team traveled to Unit C, a building with 84 inmates.
There, Conway learned that 10 inmates share a living room, complete with a television, dart board, and … knives for cooking.
He looked sad and confused.
“I’m surprised to see metal silverware in a high security facility,” he said. “It’s a very well-equipped kitchen.”
Even the cupboards were stocked with dishes, porcelain ones to boot. “Very functional, however very sharp,” Conway mused.
At Halden, the inmates even have access to tools.
“You don’t have to bake ’em in a cake,” Conway joked, holding a large file.
The presence of hangers in closets surprised Conway, too. He explained an inmate could fashion the top into an “ice pick-type weapon.” But “if there is a steel knife in the drawer around the corner, why would you need metal from a hanger?
Aside from potentially unsafe objects, the Norwegian facility included downright luxury items, like an Xbox.
Oh, and a recording studio.
“I know there’s a lot of education and vocational programmings to prepare inmates for work on the outside, but I must say I’ve never seen anything like this,” Conway admits. “This may be a little over the top.”
He wondered what kind of career a recording studio prepares inmates for. For example, he normally helps inmates learn wood-working or study for their GEDs.
Stromnes admitted that the recording studio does raise a lot of questions. The room functions as a part of the music teaching program at Halden, which officials hope will lead to lesser crime, he explained.
“Everyone is leaving … prison one day,” Stromnes said. “And we have to focus on life afterward.”
If Conway sat inmates at Attica down, he explained, and asked them to design the prison of their dreams, it would look a lot like Halden.
“This is prison utopia,” he said. “I don’t think you can go any more liberal — other than giving the inmates the keys.”
For some context, Norway has an incarceration rate of 70 per 100,000, totaling 3, 571 inmates for the entire country.
The U.S. rate is more than 100 times Norway’s — 707 per 100,000, which puts 2,228,424 people currently behind bars.
Watch the full excerpt below.
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