Monday, July 08, 2019

How Norway turns criminals into good neighbours

How Norway turns criminals into good neighbours
7 July 2019

What is the point of sending someone to prison - retribution or rehabilitation? Twenty years ago, Norway moved away from a punitive "lock-up" approach and sharply cut reoffending rates. The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby went to see the system in action, and to meet prison officers trained to serve as mentors and role models for prisoners.


A uniformed prison officer on a silver micro-scooter greets us cheerily as he wheels past. Two prisoners jogging dutifully by his side, keep pace.

Hoidal laughs at my nonplussed face.

"It's called dynamic security!" he grins. "Guards and prisoners are together in activities all the time. They eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them."

When Are Hoidal first began his career in the Norwegian Correctional service in the early 1980s, the prison experience here was altogether different.

"It was completely hard," he remembers. "It was a masculine, macho culture with a focus on guarding and security. And the recidivism rate was around 60-70%, like in the US."

But in the early 1990s, the ethos of the Norwegian Correctional Service underwent a rigorous series of reforms to focus less on what Hoidal terms "revenge" and much more on rehabilitation. Prisoners, who had previously spent most of their day locked up, were offered daily training and educational programmes and the role of the prison guards was completely overhauled.

"Not 'guards'," admonishes Hoidal gently, when I use the term. "We are prison 'officers' and of course we make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches and mentors. And since our big reforms, recidivism in Norway has fallen to only 20% after two years and about 25% after five years. So this works!"

In the UK, the recidivism rate is almost 50% after just one year.


"In Norway, the punishment is just to take away someone's liberty. The other rights stay. Prisoners can vote, they can have access to school, to health care; they have the same rights as any Norwegian citizen. Because inmates are human beings. They have done wrong, they must be punished, but they are still human beings."


"We start planning their release on the first day they arrive," explains Hoidal, as we walk through to the carpentry workshop where several inmates are making wooden summer houses and benches to furnish a new prison being built in the south of Norway.

"In Norway, all will be released - there are no life sentences," he reminds me.

"So we are releasing your neighbour," he continues. "If we treat inmates like animals in prison, then we will release animals on to your street."

(The maximum sentence in Norway is 21 years, but the law does allow for preventative detention, which is the extension of a sentence in five-year increments if the convicted person is deemed to be a continued threat to society.)


When I ask the prison governor, Are Hoidal, about the level of violence in Halden prison, he looks genuinely surprised. I tell him that in England and Wales, assaults on staff have almost tripled in five years and that there were 10,213 assaults on staff in 2018, with 995 of those classed as serious.

He scratches his head.

"Of course, in some of our older prisons there is occasional violence but I really don't remember the last time we had violence here," he reflects. "Maybe we had one or two incidences of spitting?"


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