Inside Norway's Halden Prison© Knut Egil Wang
”Who do we want as our neighbour?” These words are almost like a rhetoric slogan or a mantra within the prison walls of Halden Fengsel. Even prisoners use these words when talking about the humaneness of Halden Fengsel. Norway´s newest prison holds approximately 250 prisoners. Nearly half have committed violent crimes like murder, assault or rape. A third are convicted for selling or smuggling drugs. Bringing them back to society as better human beings is a major ambition.
Sometimes referred to as the world´s most humane prison, Halden Fengsel does look a bit different from most other prisons. Built in the middle of the woods the architects wanted to keep much nature within the prison walls; there are many trees, uneven grounds, blueberries and adders. It would be easy to run and hide, but nobody does.
The cells have a bed, a small fridge, a bookshelf, TV, desk and a chair, plus a private bathroom including a shower, toilet and a sink. In the school building there is also a grocery store named “Justisen” (The Justice) where inmates can buy whatever they need to cook for themselves and each other. There is also a well equipped music studio –“Criminal Records”, a garden, a holy room, a gym, training room, library, computer room, family visiting house and more. The school offers prisoners an opportunity to get a proper education while serving their sentence.
During the day guards often socialize with the prisoners. It could be over waffles and coffee, dinner, volleyball or just casual conversations. Many areas have no surveillance cameras, and prisoners can to some extent move around freely. Many have suggested the prison is too luxurious, that being in a prison like this is not a proper punishment. Warden Are Høidal says that revenge alone does not provide any good results. Rehabilitation is key. Finding proper housing and a steady income even before the prisoners are released is believed to contribute to lower recidivism rates.
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