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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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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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