How did a program like this come about, was it at first controversial or was it always accepted as a good idea?
Building the facility was a decision made by the parliament in Norway. The way is was built, was to reflect some of the central principles of the Norwegian correctional services; Humanity and Normality. Some said the first months that is was to “luxurious” – but that critique silenced after a while.
How many prisoners are in your prison?
Approx. 260. A big prison by Norwegian standard, very small by US standards…. We could argue for hours what is the “best” size, however my experience is that very large prisons is more about “logistics” than rehabilitation.
What sort of crimes have the majority of inmates committed? Are there particular crimes that make the inmates less likely to be rehabilitated?
Drug-related crimes are on top. In “second place”, murders. Third; rapists/sexual offenses. Rehabilitating pedophiles is difficult.
Do you see many repeat offenders?
Absolutely, we have them in Norway (and Halden) also. However, re-offending is less likely in Norway and the other Nordic countries, due to our focus on rehabilitation. If I simplify, you might say that re-offending is often connected to those having a drug addiction that we don’t succeed in helping enough.
What are the psycho-social backgrounds of your prisoners? Is there a common theme?
90% have some kind of mental issue, 60% are substance abusers, a substantial number have had problems (violence, sexual abuse, et.c) i their upbringing, many are without jobs, very low education, et.c The majority of the inmates have issues in many aspects of their life.
What is an inmate’s day-to-day life like at Halden?
In short; All inmates shall be in some kind of activity – every day. The normal routine is getting up in the morning, prepare their own breakfest and lunch, thereafter going to work or school. After work/school, they return to their living unit to have dinner. In the afternoon, there are visits, time in the yard, going to the library/gymnasium/etc. They are locked in their cells from around 20:30 to 07:15 Next morning.
What is the reason behind the 20:30 lock down?
Its a cost issue really regarding staffing.
How would you deal with the type of “Fight or die” culture that pulls non-violent offenders into prison gangs for self defense? That issue is pretty much universal in the US prison systems. I’ve always held that putting a burglar in the general population of a prison with violent lifers just forces the non-violent criminal to evolve into a more dangerous criminal.
We do the same in Norway also, mixing all kinds of offenders together. So why do we not have the same problem, or at least not to the same extent, that the US do? I think the answer is because in our prisons, our officers are together with the inmates at all times – we control the prison environment, not the “high-status” inmates. This is part of what we call “dynamic security”, the dialogue and contact between the officers and the inmates.
Do you ever feel intimidated or in danger from your inmates?
Very seldom. Treating people with respect and have a willingness to communicate, reduces tension.
If an inmate gets violent, how are you supposed to handle it?
First of all, most situations that are evolving, is possible to solve by communication. Since our officers are together with the inmates, they feel any tention early and are able to talk the situation down. In the few cases this is not possible, all officers are trained in the use of “physical power”, both on an individual level, as well as a team.
Is there ever a need for solitary confinement? If so, how often is it used and for how long?
Norway doesn’t use solitary confinement as in the US. We have “Security cells” where inmates who present a clear danger to themselves, other inmates, or staff – are put. But they stay there just until the situation is calmed downed, normally within 24 hours – where they move back into general population. You don’t stay in the Security cell as a punishment, as you do in the US.
What are some effective strategies for changing prisoner behaviors for the long term?
Start building trust – by treating them humanely and with respect. Then you have the basis for talking about change, future, etc.
What methods do you see inmates use to help rehabilitate themselves?
This varies among the inmates, you might say that we try to “tailor-made” the effort for all inmates. Screening and interviews form the basis for how we plan the intervention, together with the inmate. In addition to what you mention, I could add; Substance abuse treatment, housing issues, debt counselling, social network, et.c
How do Norwegian sentencing standards compare to US standards? Wouldn’t alternative sentencing for non-violent criminals help ease the burden on the system to allow for that level of supervision?
Alternative forms of “imprisonment” have shown very good results in Norway. I am especially thinking about “Electronic bracelet sentence”, where you live in your own home, being able to keep your work and social relations. The results are low re-offending and low operational cost for the correctional service, very cost-effective over-all.
What criticism do you face nationally and internationally about providing this kind of facilities and treatment to convicts/criminals?
Not much criticism anymore, actually – only some in the beginning. The values, methods, et.c – are the same nationwide, so the reactions initially in Norway was that the facilities was “to nice”. Same from some European countries, UK in particular. Later, the interest har been more curious and open-minded – from most countries really, I guess it is because they feel we are doing something right.
Do you think that Norwegians (and other Scandinavians) are more law abiding in the first place?
I don’t know really. And I am not sure if being law abiding is the right question to begin with. I think the level of crime is partly connected to our up-bringing; Do we have good schools, do we have a good child welfare service, do our children live in caring and functional families, etc. The background to inmates are so “filled with issues” from their younger years.
How do Norwegian citizens feel about having convicted criminals in the workplace? In the US most companies do a background check on prospective employees and felony convictions are a barrier to employment in many cases.
A criminal record might stop you from having certain jobs permanently, or for a period of time, also in Norway. But only these jobs/employers can request that insight into police records, not all employers. So even if there is some stigma of being an “ex-con”, there are job opportunities in Norway. Norway has a low uneployment rate in general, so if you have the right education/et.c – getting a job is absolutely possible.
If your wife was raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
Would you favor sending the perpetrator to a prison similar to the one you run, or to a prison similar to those in the US?
Similar to the one I run.
It is of course easy to sit here behind my computer and have principles. On a personal level I would have been devistated by such a crime, and it is hard to predict what I would say then – as a private person. But one the same time, a government system’s actions and operations can’t be based on emotions – but on facts, knowledge, et.c – hence my answers initially.
If you had to make a single critique of the United States Criminal Justice System as a whole, which would make the most good?
To much focus on punishment&revenge, to little focus on rehabilitation.
Do you believe that the Norwegian model of prison systems can be replicated in other parts of the world?
Yes, definitely. I often hear that “this will not work in my country”. Have in mind then that Halden prison inmate population consists of approx. 40-45% non-Norwegian inmates – coming from 30-35 different countries. Do we have more “issues” with those coming from other countries? No, we do not. This tells me there is something “universal” about treating people with respect and humanity.
Whats your favorite part of the job?
I think it is the daily feeling of “doing good” for society.