What Can We Learn From the Norwegian Prison System

The original purpose of prisons was to keep criminals confined until the actual punishment was carried out, usually corporal punishment. However, in most Western countries, people are sent to prison as punishment. In the eyes of the system, they did wrong to society and should pay for it. Unfortunately, prison as punishment is a short-term solution, one that the prison system in Norway believes is unsustainable. Norway has an inmate population of 3,690 as of 2023, while the United States has 1.9 million. The difference is due to Norway’s increased spending on better accommodations and making their jail systems more humane. Norway currently spends $127,671 per year per inmate, compared to an average of $25,000 per inmate in the U.S. Another difference is that prisoners don’t lose any political or civil rights while incarcerated or after release. A major change that has occurred in the last decade is a reduction in the maximum prison sentence. Gone is the life sentence, which has been replaced by a maximum sentence of 21 years, which can be extended in 5-year increments if the prisoner is deemed not suitable for reintegration into society. Norway's incarceration system doesn’t simply aim to punish, but rather to treat prisoners like human beings and teach them the skills necessary to become good citizens. Halden Prison (pictured above) is a perfect example of the difference in Norway's prison system. There are no bars on the windows, inmates have access to televisions, computers, and much more. Every 3 months, inmates with children can apply for “Daddy in Prison” — a program that allows inmates to spend a couple of nights with their families in a cozy chalet within the prison grounds. Norway is overall a fairly old-fashioned country culturally in a world region of relatively low crime. The majority of prisoners are in jail for theft-related crimes.