In Norway, A Prison Built On Second Chances : Parallels The inmates have private cells and dine with the guards. Norway spends three times as much as the U.S. per prisoner. Norwegians say it pays off, with less than half the U.S. recidivism rate.

In Norway, A Prison Built On Second Chances

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Our next story contains language that might not be suitable for younger listeners. It starts in Norway, a country with a very different attitude toward incarceration than the United States. Norway is, of course, tiny in comparison to the U.S. but on a per capita basis, the Norwegians have one tenth the number of people in prison. Jeffrey Kofman sent this report from Halden.

JEFFREY KOFMAN, BYLINE: The first thing you notice when you enter the grounds of Norway's Halden Maximum Security Prison is the forests. There are pine trees, birch trees and the buildings. And they have dark black brick and elegant windows. No concrete exercise yard here - it looks like a university campus. Are Hoidal, the prison governor, smiles at the incredulous reaction of visitors.

ARE HOIDAL: You think this is a prison when you see the big wall, but the buildings can be a university hospital, school or something like that.

KOFMAN: There is that 25 foot high concrete wall surrounding the entire compound, but nothing else here speaks of a maximum-security prison - no guard towers, no guns, no razor wire.

HOIDAL: We have no murderers, rapists. We have everything in this prison.

KOFMAN: These are bad people.

HOIDAL: They have done bad things.

KOFMAN: They're not bad people?

HOIDAL: No, they have done bad things.

KOFMAN: And you make a distinction.

HOIDAL: Yeah, that's a really important distinction.


HOIDAL: Because it's a human being. We treat them with respect.

KOFMAN: And that is the philosophy behind this prison in this small country that is rich with North Sea oil. They spend $90,000 a year to house each prisoner - three times what's spent on inmates in the United States. But Norwegians think it's a good investment. The rate of reoffending is less than 30 percent - half of what it is in the U.S. The atmosphere is casual, but the doors are locked and cameras watch every movement. We walk up a meandering landscape path, passing prisoners on the way. Past a grove of birch trees, we approach a series of elegant wood and metal clad buildings. These are the cellblocks.

And what are you serving time for?

REIJO: Murder.

KOFMAN: Reijo is a boyish looking 20-year-old. The correction service won't allow the use of prisoner's full names out of respect for their privacy. Like all 250 inmates here, he's locked in his cell 12 hours a day. But those cells are private rooms with wood furniture, a shower and more.

Does every room have a fridge?

REIJO: Yeah, every room got a fridge and a TV.

KOFMAN: A flatscreen TV.

REIJO: Yeah.

KOFMAN: And you've got a desk against the window, a nice view of the pine trees outside.

REIJO: Yeah.

KOFMAN: It's not just the architecture that makes Halden unique. You'll find the staff playing badminton with it inmates in the gym, eating with them in the dining areas. Karin Dwyer-Loken is from Baltimore. She's married to a Norwegian and teaches history and English to inmates at Halden.

KARIN DWYER-LOKEN: It's based on mutual respect between everybody. It's that anybody can learn anything. Anybody can change their lives with the right kind of help, guidance, giving them a chance.

KOFMAN: This is an awfully nice way to be punished.

DWYER-LOKEN: They're not supposed to be punished. They're supposed to serve time. Their punishment is being locked up. Their punishment is not to be treated badly while they're locked up.

KOFMAN: The philosophy here is in stark contrast to prisons in the U.S. Dwyer-Loken says she's talked to people who work in prisons in Georgia and Texas, and they don't think it could work where they are.

DWYER-LOKEN: It's too ingrown, the idea that a person who has done something bad is supposed to be punished for a very long time. And while he's being punished, he's supposed to be punished in as many ways as possible, it seems.

KOFMAN: If inmates don't follow the rules and attend class and counseling, they are shipped to more conventional prisons. In the metal shop, Sebastian, another inmate serving time for murder, is learning how to weld. A lot of prisoners who have done what you do would be locked up 23 hours a day.

SEBASTIAN: Yeah, what's the first thing they do when they get out? They attack someone because they are so angry. If they lock me up 23 hours a day, if an officer come open my door, I kick his ass because why should I not? But they treat me with respect. They give me opportunities and trust. And I want to show that I am worthy.

KOFMAN: Halden focuses on giving people a second chance, a route to reintegrating into society. It's a radical rethinking of ideas of crime and punishment. For NPR News, I'm Jeffrey Kofman in Halden, Norway.

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