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Norway’s humane prison

You will never be able to guess that you are in a prison until you walk towards the cells.




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By: Roshni Kapur
The Halden prison in Oslo, Norway is acclaimed as a prison utopia. The prison is a correctional facility where even the hardened criminals are afforded a plush lifestyle.
Outsiders are bewildered when they take a tour around the prison. They find it hard to digest that they are in a prison after visiting the unconventional facility.
Halden prison is a flagship of the Norwegian justice system. The prison is one of the latest newest correctional facilities that is home to some of the most dangerous criminals such as rapists, murderers and paedophiles. It opened two years ago that cost the Nordic government as much as 1.3bn Norwegian kroner.
Built in a forest, the prison blocks are inspired by minimalist design. The facilities will surprise you the minute you enter the workshop areas followed by the games rooms that has Xbox, recording studio and lush gardens. The recording studio is a part of a music teaching program which the management hope will lead to less crime.
The prisoners dwell in comfortable rooms with en-suite bathrooms. They live in groups of eight in communal apartment-style units with a furnished living room, flat screen and playstation. The inmates also receive educational and vocational programmes to gear them for work once they have completed their prison term.
What makes the prison even more impressive that it has no bars and handles on the cell windows. The prison is built on the foundation of trust where the inmates and prison wardens have forged a harmonious relationship. According to the prison guards, the record on prisoner attacks on guards, staff hospitalisations and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults is close to zero.
The prisoners not only have access to the kitchen that contains metal silverware, real knives and forks, but also to a workshop with sharp tools and hammers that could be used as weapons. For prisoners who feel threatened, they can render help from the security immediately. A prison psychologist, Jan Berglund is hired by the prison management. He told Al Jazeera that he has been approached by many new inmates who are anxious about the rehabilitation programme.
Amid the lavish amenities, freedom given to the inmates has its limitations. Internet use is heavily regulated and inmates are only allowed 20 minutes of calls out each week. The letters from family and friends are opened and read before being handed over to the inmates.

Prison not for everyone
Although Halden accommodates highly dangerous criminals, its doors are not open to all. The underlying ethos of Halden prison show Norwegian attitudes towards justice. Criminals such as Anders Behring Breivik are not welcomed at Halden. The prison director was quoted in an online article on Al Jazeera that “Halden is not a prison for him.”
Breivik was charged for the murder of 77 people on the island of Utoya, Oslo in July 2011. He will remain in isolation at Ila prison (near Oslo), a former Nazi concentration camp that houses some of the unwanted criminals in Norway. Indeed Ila prison has a less utopian and optimistic vision.

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