Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Norway Builds the World's Most Humane Prison

Halden, Norway's second largest prison, with a capacity of 252 inmates, opened on April 8. It embodies the guiding principles of the country's penal system: that repressive prisons do not work and that treating prisoners humanely boosts their chances of reintegrating into society. "When they arrive, many of them are in bad shape," Hoidal says, noting that Halden houses drug dealers, murderers and rapists, among others. "We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people." Countries track recidivism rates differently, but even an imperfect comparison suggests the Norwegian model works. Within two years of their release, 20% of Norway's prisoners end up back in jail. In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%. Of course, a low level of criminality gives Norway a massive advantage. Its prison roll lists a mere 3,300, or 69 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.3 million in the U.S., or 753 per 100,000 — the highest rate in the world.


What a refreshing change. Could you imagine a similar prison in the U.S? Of course not. Conservatives would literally and figuratively bash the walls down. None of this "soft on crime" stuff for real Americans. Despite the fact that Norway's recidivism rate is significantly lower than that of the U.S, many would prefer "gladiator academies" like Idaho's ICC.

A recent NY Times editorial proclaims that politicians agree that the criminal justice system is broken. That may be true in Congress, but I doubt that this position extends to states like Idaho. The band plays on in Idaho.

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