July 26th, 2011
08:35 AM ET

Will Norway suspect end up in a luxury prison?

As Foreign Policy highlights:

Norway's unrepetant mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, is now under arrest. And he should count himself lucky for - if entirely undeserving of - a penal system in that country that is among the cushiest in the world. There's no capital punishment and the longest jail term allowed is 21 years (a caveat: if a prisoner is deemed to still be a threat, his sentence can be extended in five-year blocks indefinitely, though it's highly unlikely, according to Norwegian officials). In Norway, rehabilitation is the guiding principle, not punishment - a somewhat difficult notion to swallow given the gravity and callousness of his crimes....

Norway's newest jail may hold rapists and murderers, but Halden Prison - the country's second largest and most secure facility - looks more like a posh sleepaway camp. In fact, architects say they purposely tried to avoid an "institutional feel." When it opened in 2010, some news accounts called it the "most humane" prison in the world....

Check out this TIME Magazine report on the prison from 2010:

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, 2010. 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."(See the 25 crimes of the century.)

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.

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Topics: Europe • Law • Terrorism

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soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. Beatrice

    So there is no justice system in Norway?

    July 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  2. Steve

    So this mass murderer will be living in a luxury "condo"? I can understand something like this if prisoners have to work toward it, but in its present form, I think it does not provide the reality that a prisoner has done something wrong and needs to pay a penalty for it.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • Ivan

      Not sure if this criminal will be serving his sentence at this particular prison or not, but I think the key to the Norwegian justice system is as follows:

      1. Criminals in Norway are indeed punished, and they are after all deprived of their freedom and mobility.
      2. While the isolation from society is present, the focus of the time in jail for the inmate is rehabilitation and responsible return to society.
      3. The Norwegian justice system recognizes that most criminals are not born that way. Everything from how they grew up, their social background to the presence of mental disease could play a role, and could have created a vicious cycle that could have made committing a crime way more likely. The attention while in jail is to break that cycle, but with help from qualified staff.

      So Norwegian inmates are indeed in jail for a crime and will face their punishment, but who knows, some of these inmates may for the first time realize that there is a a better way to make it outside of the walls. But if they knew nothing better in the past, how would they know if someone did not show them? This is what the Norwegian justice system is trying to do. The experience in jail is not just about the punishment, but turning that time into something productive for the inmate. Engagement is the word for the inmate just like tutoring is for a child facing difficulty in school.

      Some may call the Norwegian approach naive, but I think the approach would produce far less repeat offenders whether they serve long or short sentences. The issue of cost may also be a factor as this model may be cheaper in the long run. How expensive is it not to house repeat offenders who are in and out of jail?

      July 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    • Glilick

      Norway has 20% repeat offenders and US about 60%. Norway must be doing something right.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:21 am | Reply
  3. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    This was a Norwegian criminal whose victims were Norwegian. It's Norway which needs to find the right answers to it. They were a good country before this happened and they are still a good country afterwards. I'm a proud American, but ours is not the only way of life.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  4. us1776

    Having the more insane justice system and the worst prison system with the highest incarceration rate in the world plus the death penalty still did not deter Timothy McVeigh from committing exactly the same type of terrorist crimes.


    July 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
    • Ivan

      I realize that.

      Not sure how closely McVeigh was analyzed before he was put to death, but in any regard he would have been a tough case to rehabilitate. Obviously here in the US it would not have been an option since he was sentenced to death, but in Europe it may have been an option despite the horror of what he did.

      Harsh laws may deter crime for potential first offenders, no doubt about that, but good and effective rehabilitation may be the answer for repeat offenders. It is this group that is crowding America's prisons today, and at a huge expense. Could these resources used for incarceration for repeat offenders be used differently?

      July 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  5. wat

    wow sounds like the us should adopt the norwegian model

    July 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Reply
    • jack

      Funny, the article didn't mention the cost.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Reply
      • sighingman

        Norway is c. $250 compared to about $60, however US benefits form economies of scale by having nearly 1/4 of the world population of prisoners. if the US were to move to the norwegian model and prisoner rates inly fell by a quarter (rather than the 90% less of the population in prison they have in norway) it would still work out cheaper over all.

        July 27, 2011 at 6:56 am |
  6. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc,Int'l Intst'r

    why did you not post my comment . mcvey wasn't put to death i told you. as a gay terrorist army idiot he was transgendered to hide him and use him for more crooked operations moves he is the idiot ugly dog owner broad that was here and his terrorist partner is hiding out here as well. stop contradicting me. theresa noelle younan ymma-iii i-pic interpole galactica. some non gay terrorist ones just get a face and name change.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  7. Joe

    America isn't what it used to be. We're all better off catching a plane to Norway to commit crimes.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:13 am | Reply
    • Odd Olsen, Norway

      Joe, you are much better off if you came as you are. Espessialy if you have some education.

      Even in these financial crisis times, businesses and the public sector "screams" for more qualified workers. Just as an example, we need more than 7000 engineers of different kinds at this moment. We also need many health workers of all kinds at the moment and this will became more and more critical in coming years. The government (NAV) have some campains ongoing in order to have more well educated immigrants from Europe, Asia and the U.S.

      Look here for more English info: http://www.nav.no/English/Working+in+Norway

      As a plus, as soon as you work in Norway, you automatically became a member of the Norwegian national insurance scheme and get huge benefits such as free health care, guaranteed wages (same wage as before you got sick) in case of sick leave, financial help in case you lose your job and so on. You also do not need health insurance anymore as health care and medications is completely free.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:09 am | Reply
      • Glilick

        How is the IT market over there?

        July 27, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  8. Odd Olsen, Norway

    If I am not wrong, I just read that each prisoner costs the Norwegian state about 1500 NOK a day (280 USD/day). But have in mind that everything is more expensive here and that the prisons are much smaller than in the U.S.

    A prison officer in Norway do AT LEAST earn about 310.000 NOK a year (57.926 USD/year) and likely closer to 400.000 NOK. Average wages for nurses are abouve 400.000 NOK a year just to compare.

    1500 NOK per prisoner/day is nothing. If we have one in prison for some years and then release him – then we are likely to go in zero or in plus from his taxes in his lifetime – just imagine if he fulfill an education in prison – lets say he want to be a plumber then he will earn about 400.000 NOK a year (74.744 USD/year) and pay about 120.000 NOK (22.423 USD) in wage taxes (30%) every year. If he buy a home, invest some money in stocks or let us hope so – buy a car (very expensive in Norway, huge taxes!) then we have even more tax incomes.

    If we put the same guy in jail for the rest of his life then we only have expenses and if we let him "sleep" then I would call it a loss (in all means).

    I know that many young prisoners became good role models after some time in prison. They take education and became youth workers and get in tuch with other young people struggling with soft crime/drugs etc. These former prisoners may keep these young people out of prison and give them a helping hand in right direction.

    And at last I want you to remember that we are all humans. We are social beings and some of the the toughest punishment you can give to humans is isolation. It does not sound as a hard punishment as it does not hurt physically, but it is very hard mentally and very, very harmful. Therefore, one must balance the isolation so that the prisoners get punished but not mentally ill.

    Even here in Norway, the prisoners are changed when they arrive in prison. Prison officers I have spoken to tell of prisoners that changes after they have gotten into the prison. The skin is changing and the way they behave etc. many became deeply depressed.

    So it is not like you get in heaven, but I can understand that it is for those who came from Somalia, Pakistan or perhaps from poor countries in Eastern Europe.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply
  9. Shawn

    Norway: A place where you can commit mass murder on children, live in a posh resort for a couple decades, and go on with your life.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:22 am | Reply
  10. Troy Legacy

    It seems politicians are more interested in protecting criminals from society than the way it should be. We've lost our way in this world. Save rehab for petty criminals like thieves. Murderers and rapists need to pay society and their victims back, not be cared after like they were the victims.

    July 27, 2011 at 6:22 am | Reply
  11. Paul Ronco

    "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."

    Excuse me, but how do you think they got to enjoy this "massive advantage?" These prisons take rehabilitation seriously, literally brainwashing criminals back to normalcy with compassion and love. The prison system is merely a small window into Norwegian life itself. Norway far fewer criminals than the United States because their society and culture doesn't create as many criminals to begin with.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:59 am | Reply
  12. Tom

    When he is released from the cushy prison they put him in, he'll do the same thing again. Wont have any sympathy for the Norwegians when that happens. Their way of thinking is what allowed this carnage to take place, and go on for so long before a bunch of Keystone cops could make it to the island where the guy shot all those kids. Even he was surprised that he could go on shooting for the length of time that he did before being apprehended. How can you have an emergency helicopter system with one helicopter, and allow all the pilots to go on vacation at the same time? What world is the Norwegian government living in? Maybe Disney World!

    July 27, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • Odd Olsen, Norway

      Regarding the police helicioter I can not understand it either. Another fact is that the helicopter is not based in central Oslo, but at Rygge Airport far outside Oslo. It means 3 times the distance from Oslo to Utoya.

      The police decided to let all pilots have vacation at the same time so they would have full capacity at once after the holiday instead of a long time with reduced capacity. Anyway, the helicopter would not have been as important as it looks – it could not transport the special police troop but it could have provided an excellent overview of the situation.

      If and when Breivik is released he will be carefully monitored by the security service. I think he will be more willing to live a normal life when he comes out, like most other murderers have chosen to do when they were released to society again.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  13. Better than college dorm

    Flatscreen TV? Minifridge? One kitchen and livingroom area for only 10 rooms? That sounds BETTER than my college dorm room and I went to a major public university. Furthermore, I don't think the architecht of my dorm building was trying to create some grandiose design scheme either. My school built the cheapest building it could hold college students in.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
  14. Paul Bishop

    I'm skeptical about this – somehow I feel this isn't the whole story.

    That said, if you go with a rehabilitation model of justice, this does seem to be a good way. However, I do not believe all crimes should be answered with the rehabilitation model of justice. With a mass-murderer like this, retribution is needed. Further, someone this debauched is likely to do it again after he gets out in 20 years. In any case, I hope this event will help Norway re-think how they approach justice.

    July 31, 2011 at 3:20 am | Reply
  15. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply
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