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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Norway’s Prisons: A Model For The U.S.?

After the shooting in Norway that killed over 70, observers outside the country were astonished to learn that the longest prison sentence in Norway’s system is 21 years. Also, capital punishment there is illegal.

Officials have rushed to say they can make exceptions and it is thought they will with a longer sentence for the confessed attacker, Anders Breivek.

But the case has drawn attention to the country’s prison system, which is rooted in a deep belief in rehabilitation, unlike in the U.S, where resources have shifted away from rehabilitation since the 1970s.

Vice TV Reporter Ryan Duffy visited the island prison of Bastowey in April, 2010, and he was shocked to see drug dealers and murderers running ferries, operating farming equipment, and playing soccer. There were no walls or chains, and the guards carried no weapons.

Furthermore, by many measures, Norway has lower recidivism rates than the U.S. According to Time Magazine, “within two years of their release, 20 percent of Norway’s prisoners end up back in jail. In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50 percent and 60 percent.”

Natasha Frost, an associate professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, says rehabilitation of prisoners was the focus of U.S. prisons until the 1970s. Frost says Sunbelt Republicans popularized the notion of “getting tough on crime” and that soon it became politically difficult to put aside tax dollars to rehabilitate inmates.

But as prisons become more expensive to operate, state and federal institutions are looking for cheaper ways to house criminals and make sure they don’t re-enter the system.


  • Ryan Duffy, reporter at Vice TV
  • Natasha Frost, associate professor at the school of Criminology and Criminial Justice at Northeastern University

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  • Faith Quintavell

    The difference between the U.S. and Norway is that Norway is a homogeneous society. Something biological in the brain feels more of a sense of community when everyone in society is very similar to you (and come from the same smallish gene pool.) In the U.S., the Norway prison model unfortunately won’t work, because prisoners would not have the sense of paying a debt to society, since US citizens don’t feel as strong an allegiance to a society that is so big, and has so much diversity.
    On the other hand, there is a prison in San Francisco that uses the rehabilitation model rather than the punitive model, and it has a much lower rate of recidivism than the general prison population. So exploring the rehabilitation model does have a payoff, but I doubt that even the prisoners in San Francisco’s model prison are allowed to drive off the prison grounds and are trusted to come back as in the Norway prisoners who can be counted on to pilot ferries back and forth from the prison island.
    - Faith Quintavell
    Philadelphia, PA

    • PandTStave

      I think the “foreign born” population is about 11% mostly centered in large cities such as Oslo: Viet Nam, Thailand, and  West Africa as well as Poland, Sweden and Estonia.

      Tonnes Stave

      • COlden

        Those 11% includes the three largest groups of immigrants to Norway: 
        Swedish, Polish and American immigrants! The non-Europeans make up a whole 3%… The largest groups being Pakistanis, Turks and Iraqis if I remember correctly.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      As you say, the differences in culture between our two countries likely preclude this kind of system here.  There’s no mention of gang violence in Norway, for example.  We also have a large nation, and I’d imagine that escape and disappearance into our society is easier.

    • Lisa Rove-Williams

      Norway used to be a homogeneous society.  However, since becoming an affluent nation and opening its borders to refugees and impoverished people, first from the Middle East and more recently from African nations, Oslo will within a few years be populated by more foreigners than natives.  Norwegian prisons are overwhelmingly filled with foreigners.  As for employment, the kinds of jobs done primarily by Mexicans in the States are being done primarily by Polish workers in Norway.  Even Swedes are flocking to Norway for better employment opportunities than they have in Sweden.  On many fronts, Norway is going through lots of the problems and challenges which our country has been dealing with for decades, if not centuries.

      • COlden

        Nonsense! Norway has no legal immigration, we have no “open” borders. There is only one option for migration and that is seeking asylum. 

        Our European neighbors are legally allowed to live and work here, but they are neither refugees or impoverished.

        There is no truth to your claim that Norway will be swaped “within a few years” . Pure drivel.

  • Justin Freed

    I recommend that you go to the Lionheart Foundation web site. The founder, Robin Casarjian, has done remarkable work in the field of prison reform. I worked under her guidance as a volunteer in a rehabilitation program in a prison. Robin would be a perfect guest for your show on this topic. She is also doing important work on at- risk teenagers and teen age mothers. The Lionheart Foundation phone number is 781-444-6667.

  • Kerryjoy

    I think what is more important is the ability of the prisoners to reintroduce themselves into society.  In America you have to declare that you were in jail on a job application, assuring a mark against you.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    If we had a more rational approach to our drug problem–public health, not criminal justice–we’d have no prison problem.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    On the other hand, do we want criminals to be the male role models in a community?

  • Allison_samuel

    norways prison system is nota solution for inmates , military training for all prisoners .no matter what 
    country  their from let the military discipline them all.

  • Jovis

    The dirty secret is that the entire judicial system makes money for it’s participants. In Montgomery County, PA, the prison is privately owned and there is every incentive to increase the inmate population in spite of the facility being horribly overcrowded.  New inmates routinely are kept in a gym and sleep on the gym floor for as long as 30 days. The commissary is overpriced and controlled by the for profit.  Nonviolent offenders  are  housed with rapists and killers.  Everyone makes money….lawyers, social workers, parole officers. It’s a scandal.

    • Nox

      And on top of it, the “new freedom” in this country means you’ll end up with a bill for thousands of dollars to pay for your own incarceration.  

  • Steve Reitz

    I am probably not the typical family member of
    a prisoner. I am a retired naval officer (USN) and have three other children
    who have graduated from California colleges. But I have seen firsthand the
    damage the California prison system does to prisoners and their loved ones. I
    think you will find that most of the people in prison are sorry for their
    misdeeds and would like to improve their lives. This is a far cry from the
    tattooed crazies who are portrayed on cable TV prison reality shows and by

    I am aware of an initiative originated
    by prisoners at Lancaster State Prison in California, which attempted to trade
    human treatment for rule following and drug free behavior. It was called
    “the Prison Honor System” (see http://www.prisonhonorprogram.org/Fast_Facts.htm)
    and It worked well while it had prison administration support and received
    overwhelming support by the California Legislature when an attempted was made
    to institutionalize the program by law. The law was vetoed by the California Governor
    in 2007 and the program died from lack of institutional support.

    What many citizens don’t realize is
    that imprisonment itself, the removal of individual freedom, is the punishment
    for crimes against the community.  The additional punishment, dehumanizing treatment of prisoners and the crushing bureaucracy of California
    prisons today, create a greater problem when it is time to release these
    warehoused prisoners. Further, prisoners are kept in prison long past the time
    when they are a danger to society by the law and order xx-years-to-life sentences, which
    parole boards routinely interpret as life sentences.

    Today the annual cost for the California Prison System is
    around $8 billion and growing, just about the cost the state spends on higher
    education.  It is a growth
    industry and any attempts at reform meet considerable resistance from the
    unions and organizations which profit from these expenditures.

    a waste of human lives! Such a waste of taxpayer dollars!

    Steve R

  • Nox

    Our prisoners in Norwegian prisons would still have a 60% recidivism rate.  It is not valid to compare the criminals in the population of a different culture and derive statistics from which one draws conclusions.  

    • jernfrost

      Culture makes no difference. Research and experience in the US show the same results as in Norway for rehabilitation oriented prisons. I think your issue is that human treatment of prisoners does not fit with your ideology.


  • Rubye Wright

    The Norwegian system of governing prision life is so very close to Christian santity that the commentator and reporter were stupified by the unity of purpose that enables the opportunity of positive change and restored dignity to human beings who respond to circumstances that diviate from the ascribed behavors which were in point of fact written by human beingss doing time for which ascribe a sentence made by imperfect human beings.  One can only attribute the stupified revelations to the denial so suffered when one is brainwashed ito believing lies as truths to manipulate the brain into believing that if such and such said it, it must be true mentally. One’s name arrogant assumption of how one correctly perceives is done only by the US.  Evolution of purpose restored brings into play hope, whereas evolution of purpose in demand in the US is hopeless and is in point of fact vendictive to insure the validity of statistics and therefore, validating wasted if one is finally given an opportunity to be correctly trained and taught acclamation into society.

    Norwegians seek to find the good in people by restoring the evolution of purpose and remove the stigma of labeling simply because of the set of circumstances one is dealt.  Americans come from a position of centuries of allowing businessmen and politicians (bullies) to create circumstances of greed, murder, lies and false witness which delivers a positive outcome for the bullies and a diasterous outcome for the masses.  This the reason why literal slavery was allowed to thrive and why progressive slavery or serfdom exists today.  Therefore, until all 51 constitutions and all the ordinaces from top to bottom are abolished which do continue to discriminate against every one who is not classified as a bully, the masses will continue to drown while on the bullies of the world will be the only ones enjoying de-mock-cracy at the sacrifice of the masses who would receive whatever is left to brainwash them into believing that we all share in de-mock-cracy.

    Structural integrity was compromised when Jefferson was allowed to independently write a document absent of the people’s consent and imput and made possibilities counter-productive to all who was not a bully by the lack of insight to be inclusive which does appear to the naked eye seem inclusive, however, but literally to one’s comprehension it is a document that is most undemocractic, therefore the masses have to pay for the choices made by bullies when ignorance (used to mean:  men and women who could neither read or write ratified a piece of work that has proven ultimately to be document of entrapment to allow bullies to routinely break the law while the masses must circum to the law)ratified its acceptence.  Children do for the most part poorly in history, because they realize early on that civics is not all that it seems or pretends to be.

    In closing bullies in America could never stand for integrity, and implement service to human beings who are in prisons because in large part of decisions made by bullies, as that would required that bullies tare down stereotipical stigmas that are a direct results of the felonious actions of government on all levels, therefore, in kind how else would bullies justify why they themselvesare not in prision for the crimes againt humanity that they have committed as deployed by judges who are also bullies and are equally as guilty since they are for the most part appointed by bullies.

    The Norweigian system is in point of fact a superior system to the bankrupting system that the US has where all the paid criminologist justify their need to consult and explain away the evils inflicted on how children are taught to insue criminal behavior for the citizen and good business for the bullies…

  • http://www.heldtoanswer.com Pamela Fitzsimmons

    A while back, there was much publicity about how great Japan’s prison system was and how America should consider modeling its criminal justice system after that country. I went down to my local library and found a book on Japanese corrections and did some comparisons and posted a summary. (http://www.heldtoanswer.com/2011/05/the-japanese-way-to-prison-reform/)

    Now,the media are embracing Norway. I suspect the Norwegian way won’t work any better than the Japanese way? Why? Because we are America. There is no ACLU in Japan. There are few prison rights groups (or prison groupies, for that matter) in Japan.

    How can we have prison reform in America without reforming American culture? How can we change American culture without offending someone’s civil rights?

    • http://www.facebook.com/daemos.titan2 Dæmos Titan

       I seriously fail to see how the ACLU would be bothered by a murderer being given 21 years in prison as opposed to the death penalty.. You’re right, the culture does need to change— people need to quit being retarded and obtain some critical thinking skills. ACLU, seriously? It’s not some masonic cabal, give us a break.

  • Teaching3rdworld

    If we really want to entertain the notion of the U.S. adopting Norway’s prison system, we must consider many variables that have not been discussed.  I lived in Oslo for five months. I was four blocks from the explosion in July. From what I experienced from speaking to many Norwegians, the attack was so unprecedented that it was the first time law officers were seen in the capital wearing armor and carrying weapons.  Why? Let’s compare how Norway’s social democracy that governs their country-which is about the same geographical size of CA, very homogenous, and has a population close to six million- to the federal republic of the U.S.  

    First of all, the U.S.  has the audacity to be comparable (geographical in size) to all of Europe, but have one central government.  CA has a population close to thirty-five million and about forty percent are Hispanic-not to mention an Austrian governor (not too long ago) that might have made Nazis say, “That’s weird!”.  There are more Hispanics in CA than there are Norwegians in Norway.  Norway does not have demographics that present the problems we have in the U.S.  We are a country made of immigrants.  This has created the social economical gaps that Norway does not have.  If you see the demographics of prison inmates compared to college students in the U.S., you will get an idea of where we need to put our attention. 

    I have taught in the most affluent and high achieving districts in CA, but I have also taught in low income districts. The biggest difference is that I am one of many positive adult figures to a student in the affluent districts.  In the low income districts, I was the center piece in a student’s education. The low income districts usually have many English learners and lack parents with time to follow up on their child’s performance.  There are no exceptions to change the expectations that ALL students in CA need to meet the same standards.  The expectations are unrealistic. The ratio of what we spend on prisons compared to education must change.

    Norway is comparable to an affluent school district. Their government provides family benefits that allow new parents to get paid without working for more than a year. This provides quality parenting during the prekindergarten years. Children are more than ready to begin school. The curriculum is interdisciplinary.  Students progress to sustain a higher proficiency rate-which will lead to higher education. University tuition is financially accessible to all due to their social democracy. Higher education leads to well paying, skilled jobs that provide more paid vacation time than the U.S.  Citizens that make more money pay more taxes. Also, Norway has strong domestic revenue from oil and energy. In return, Norway has been recognized by the international community for their development and high standard of living. 

    At this point, you might have a better understanding for why law officers are not usually armed in Norway.  The equity for a high standard of living is accessible to most.  The challenge Norway has is the growing number of immigrants. The country will see more immigrant neighborhoods that consist of more unskilled workers.  The terrorist act that occurred in Norway is rooted in the notion that it is acceptable to be violent rather than coexist.  The Norwegian judicial system is being tested because this case is unprecedented. 

    The difference in income tax for wages between the U.S. and Norway      is a big factor. The Norwegian government can give their citizens benefits to provide better sustainable and meaningful development. Their demographics make it easier.  The U.S. should try to adopt some of Norway’s taxes toward family benefits and education. This reform would reduce our prison crisis.  Unfortunately, our demographics and politics make this reform very challenging.


    • jernfrost

      I’d like to comment on some of the ideas about Norway based on oil wealth, homogentiy of society, no guns by the police etc.

      People easily attribute this to present conditions in Norway. But it is worth nothing that many of the differences you see between Norway and anglo-saxon countries go back over 500 years. A time when Britain was also homogenic and wealthier than Norway.

      But even then treatment of prisoners was much milder in Norway than in Britain. Thiefs were very often not prosecuted if they were poor and stole to sustain themselves. This contrasts strongly with Britain. The US has many of the ideas about society and crime and punishment from Britain I believe.

      But I believe most of the differences can be traced back to viking times. Norway never had a strong state, which could enforce laws. It forced people to negotiate and reach agreements about crime and punishment.

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