Unlike the usual jail cell pictured, rooms at the Halden prison more resemble a Scandinavian boutique hotel.
If you’re going to commit a jailable offense, do it in Norway, where officials at the high-security Halden prison believe that providing inmates with a “light and positive” environment will make them better people when they re-enter society.
Cells are painted in muted colors and offer a flat-screen TV, a private shower, a toilet and soft, white towels. Barless windows look out onto green landscapes. Staff mingle with inmates freely and violence, shouting and aggression are virtually nonexistent.
“We don’t think about revenge in the Norwegian prison system,” says facility manager Are Hoidal. “We have much more focus on rehabilitation.”
It appears that Anders Breivik, currently on trial in Oslo for the murders of 77 people in a terrorist rampage last summer, will not be housed at Halden. —ARK
“Everyone who is imprisoned inside Norwegian prisons will be released – maybe not Breivik, but everyone else will go back to society. We look at what kind of neighbour you want to have when they come out. If you stay in a box for a few years, then you are not a good person when you come out. If you treat them hard … well, we don’t think that treating them hard will make them a better man. We don’t think about revenge in the Norwegian prison system. We have much more focus on rehabilitation. It is a long time since we had fights between inmates. It is this building that makes softer people.”
Prisoners are unlocked at 7.30am and locked up for the night at 8.30pm. During the day they are encouraged to attend work and educational activities, with a daily payment of 53 kroner (£5.60) for those who leave their cell. “If you have very few activities, your prisoners become more aggressive,” Høidal says. “If they are sitting all day, I don’t think that is so good for a person. If they are busy, then they are happier. We try not to let them get institutionalised.”
The role of the prison guard is very different from that in the UK. While officers in Britain get a few weeks’ training, Norwegians will have completed a two-year university course, with an emphasis on human rights, ethics and the law. At Halden there are 340 staff members (including teachers and healthcare workers) to the 245 male inmates. Staff are encouraged to mingle with inmates, talking to them, counselling them, working with them to combat their criminality. A great deal of attention is given to making sure people have homes and jobs to go to when they leave, and that family ties are maintained. (There is a well-stocked chalet-style house for prisoners to receive overnight visits from their families.) “We have many more prison officers than prisoners. They are talking about why they are here, what problems got them into this criminality. Our role is to help them and to guard them. The prison governor role in Norway is unique. They are meant to be coach, motivator, a role model for the inmates.”