Prison systems around the world are generally predicated on a two-step system: Punish the crimes, rehabilitate the offender. Some countries like the U.S. tend to focus on the punishment. But Norway is a shining example of what can happen when the focus is put on the rehabilitation.
In Norway, there is no death penalty and the maximum sentence is 21 years, meaning that every prisoner will someday be released. Because of that, Norwegian Correctional Services design and run their prisons to help inmates grow, or at least not diminish, as people so that they might effectively rejoin society after their release.
The maximum sentence in Norway, even for murder, is 21 years. Since most inmates will eventually return to society, prisons mimic the outside world as much as possible to prepare them for freedom. At Halden, rooms include en-suite bathrooms with ceramic tiles, mini-fridges and flat-screen TVs. Officials say sleeker televisions afford inmates less space to hide drugs and other contraband.
To ease the psychological burdens of imprisonment, the planners at Halden spent roughly $1 million on paintings, photography and light installations. According to a prison informational pamphlet, this mural by Norwegian graffiti artist Dolk "brings a touch of humor to a rather controlled space." Officials hope the art — along with creative outlets like drawing classes and wood workshops — will give inmates "a sense of being taken seriously."
Every 10 to 12 cells share a kitchen and living room, where prisoners prepare their evening meals and relax after a day of work. None of the windows at Halden have bars.
Security guards organize activities from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening. It’s a chance for inmates to pick up a new hobby, but it’s also a part of the prison’s dynamic security strategy: occupied prisoners are less likely to lash out at guards and one another. Inmates can shoot hoops on this basketball court, which absorbs falls on impact, and make use of a rock-climbing wall, jogging trails and a soccer field.
There’s also a recording studio with a professional mixing board. In-house music teachers — who refer to the inmates as "pupils," never "prisoners" — work with their charges on piano, guitar, bongos and more. Three members of Halden’s security-guard chorus recently competed on Norway’s version of American Idol. They hope to produce the prison’s first musical — starring inmates — later this year
Halden’s architects preserved trees across the 75-acre site to obscure the 20-ft.-high security wall that surrounds the perimeter, in order to minimize the institutional feel and, in the words of one architect, to "let the inmates see all of the seasons." Benches and stone chessboards dot this jogging trail.
The prison’s exterior features earthy brown hues that help it blend in with the surrounding woodlands. Inside, however, the walls explode with color. Halden hired an interior decorator who used 18 different colors to create a sense of variety and stimulate various moods. A calming shade of green creates a soothing atmosphere in the cells, while a vivid orange brings energy to the library and other working areas. A two-bedroom guesthouse, where inmates can host their families overnight, includes a conjugal room painted a fiery red.
Norway’s prison guards undergo two years of training at an officers’ academy and enjoy an elevated status compared with their peers in the U.S. and Britain. Their official job description says they must motivate the inmate "so that his sentence is as meaningful, enlightening and rehabilitating as possible," so they frequently eat meals and play sports with prisoners. At Halden, half of all guards are female, which its governor believes reduces tension and encourages good behavior.
Norwegian inmates lose their right to freedom but not to state services like health care. Dentists, doctors, nurses and even librarians work in the local municipality, preventing a subpar prison standard from developing. On-site, Halden boasts a small hospital and this state-of-the-art dentist’s office.
To help inmates develop routines and to reduce the monotony of confinement, designers spread Halden’s living quarters, work areas and activity centers across the prison grounds. In this "kitchen laboratory," inmates learn the basics of nutrition and cooking. On a recent afternoon, homemade orange sorbet and slices of tropical fruit lined the table. Prisoners can take courses that will prepare them for careers as caterers, chefs and waiters.