It may come as a surprise to some that the land of ice and snow that brought us Vikings and Black Metal has one of the most progressive penal systems in the world. A new article in The Huffington Post profiles one of Norway’s “open prisons,” a high-minded concept that in some cases allows prisoners to keep their jobs and continue to participate in the social fabric of their communities. Located in southwestern Norway, Bastoy Prison is described as a “summer camp” by some and the article features photos of convicted murderers sunbathing while former drug dealers prepare food in kitchens that look like something out of Martha Stewart Living.
The idea of open prisons originated in Finland in the 1930s and the practice is widespread throughout Scandinavia, including Norway where 30% of penitentiaries follow the model. And rather than being a reward for good behavior, open prisons are often a refuge for problem inmates. Bastoy’s governor (not warden) says, “some have been problematic in other prisons but then they come here, and we find them easy. We say, ‘Is that the same guy you called difficult?’ It’s really very simple: Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”
To “law & order” obsessed Americans, where well over 2 million people are currently incarcerated, the idea may seem preposterous. However, advocates point to the country’s low crime rate overall and low recidivism rate as emblematic of the program’s success. While it’s foolhardy to think that the policies of an oil-rich social welfare state of 5 million can be automatically imported into the United States, with a population approaching 320 million, there’s no doubt the U.S. criminal justice system could learn a few things from Norway when it comes to treating prisoners with compassion and respect.
[Top Photo Credit: Julian-G. Albert, Resized]