Norway’s prison system has been the subject of controversy for a number of years. Its officials practice “restorative justice,” a theory that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior through cooperative processes that includes all stakeholders.
To that end, prisons in Norway look more like college dormitories than incarceration facilities. There are no bars on the windows, rooms have closets outfitted with refrigerators, there is access to athletic facilities as well as fully-equipped kitchens where inmates cook for themselves, and for their guards, who also dine with them.
Inmates receive vocational training and many of them work offsite at jobs such as car repair, which they travel to on a daily basis – unaccompanied.
Americans may be surprised to hear about the way Norway runs its prison system, but many are even more surprised to hear about its results.
Norway has one of the lowest crime rates in the world with .6 intentional homicides, for example, per 100,000 people. By contrast, the U.S. homicide rate is five per 100,000 people. It also has one of the lowest incarceration rates with seventy-one out of 100,000 people. The U.S incarceration is 743 out 100,000.
The truly remarkable numbers, however, are Norway’s recidivism rates, the rate at which convicted criminals re-offend and are sent back to jail. Norway’s recidivism rate is 20%. The U.S. recidivism rate for prisoners is 57% by the end of their first year out. Within three years of release, 68% of U.S. prisoners are re-arrested. Within five years, 77% of prisoners are re-arrested.
Those numbers have caused some states in the U.S. to experiment, adopting some of Norway’s policies. In 2015, officials from North Dakota traveled to Norway to get a first-hand look at their system, and to see which, if any, programs could be duplicated back home. Since their return, officials have begun to institute some of the same policies found in prisons in North Dakota.
Cells in North Dakota are now outfitted with televisions, and DVD players. Inmates can play Frisbee on the grounds and enjoy free pizza. Officials say that if the new approach can reduce the state’s recidivism rate, it’s worth taking a chance.
While it is still too early to tell if the reforms are working, prison staff members are already seeing a positive change in the attitudes of the inmates, they say.
But the changes are not without controversy though. One corrections officer has resigned in protest due to the changes citing a disrespect some of the inmates have for the new dynamic.
“If someone took my wife’s life, why should the guy that took her life be able to sit in there and have Wii and free pizza?…They say this is a ‘daycare.’ They call it ‘camp snoopy.’ And a couple of them call it ‘prisneyland,’” former corrections officer Sam Mitchum said.