What Everyone Can Learn From the World's Most Humane Prison

Norway believes in rehabilitation through kindness and respect


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Halden in Norway is a special place. Tucked away in the country’s southern tip near the border with Sweden, the town is host to what has been dubbed “the world’s most humane prison.” If it wasn’t for the 7.5-meter-high wall built around the complex, one would never guess that it housed a maximum-security penitentiary. Surrounded by pine and birch trees, Halden prison bears far more resemblance to a university campus, than a facility for some of the country’s most dangerous prisoners.

There is no doubt that the people incarcerated in Halden are criminals, but prison governor Are Hoidal easily defines what makes Norway’s approach to punishment so unique. He believes that the men in Halden have done bad things, but they are not bad people. "That's a really important distinction," he says. They are "human beings, we treat them with respect."

250 inmates are locked up in Halden, which first opened it’s doors in 2010. In a radical rethink of the concepts of crime and punishment, Halden focuses on giving people a second chance as well as a way to reintegrating themselves into society. Cells look like simple hotels rooms, kitchens and common rooms look just like the average Norwegian living room and one would have to look long and hard to find concrete in the prison’s spacious yard. Inmates can learn new skills in metal shops, improve their fitness on a rock climbing wall, browse the internet for 20 minutes day, watch TV in their rooms, or record music in a state-of-the-art recording studio which is part of a music teaching program.

What may sound like a utopian fantasy is actually producing irrefutable results. At just 20 percent, Norway has managed to claim the lowest reoffending rate in Europe. Halden’s system, based on mutual respect between everyone involved, is proof that anybody can change their lives with the right kind of help and guidance - if they are just given the chance.

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