Norway’s prison system is known as one of the most humane in the entire world.
It may also be one of the most radical.
“This is prison utopia,” American prison warden James Conway said in “The Norden,” a made-for-TV documentary. “I don’t think you can go any more liberal — other than giving the inmates the keys.” The production explored Conway’s experience visting Halden.
The 75-acre facility tries to maintain as much normalcy as possible, an important concept in the Norwegian prison system, Jan Stromnes, deputy head of the prison, said in the documentary. That means no bars on the windows, fully equipped kitchens, and friendships between guards and inmates.
“Every inmates in Norwegian prison are going back to the society,” Are Hoidel, Halden’s director, said in another production by Gughi Fassino and Emanuela Zuccalà. “Do you want people who are angry — or people who are rehabilitated?”
Like many prisons, Halden seeks to prepare inmates for life on the outside with vocational programs: wood-working, assembly workshops, and even a recording studio.
Norway hasn’t imposed the death penalty since 1979. Life sentences don’t exist, putting the focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment.
The Scandinavian country has an incarceration rate of 70 per 100,000, totaling 3,571 inmates for the entire country. The US’ rate is more than 10 times Norway’s — 707 per 100,000, or 2,228,424 people behind bars.
This building is 'Unit C,' where 84 inmates live. The windows don't have bars because the prison wants inmates to have a good view of nature.
This is Jack. Before he went to prison, he was in school to become a chef and now uses the kitchen to practice. 'I feel good inside here,' he says. 'I feel that I can become a better person.'
When American prison warden James Conway visited Halden, he was shocked at the inmates' access to potential weapons. The metal top of this hanger could easily be fashioned into an 'ice-pick-type weapon,' he said.
'I'm having a hard time believing that I'm in a prison,' Conway said when he came across the studio.
Inmates can learn to play instruments, sing, and work with audio equipment. Three have even appeared on Norway's version of 'American Idol.'
And inmates get to experience all four seasons on the grounds. In nice weather, they can play sports on fields outside.
The grounds are beautiful. The prison's architect suggested keeping 'as much of the nature as possible,' deputy head of the prison Jan Stromnes explained. That way, inmates could serve under normal conditions -- one of the key principles in the Norwegian prison system.
Halden also invested in art and architecture, reportedly spending $1 million on paintings, photographs, and light installations to create a 'warm and cozy' environment.
'The relationship with some inmates, it's kind of like a normal friendship,' one guard explains. 'Last year, we had one inmate who was crying when he was leaving.'
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.