This 'Luxury Prison' in Norway Focuses on Rehab Vs. Punishment

Norway has one of the lowest recurrence records of crime in the world.
IMAGE Justis- og politidepartementet/ Halden fengsel/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The common protocol for most countries is to punish criminals by having them serve time behind bars in prison.

But not for one particular prison in Norway.

The Scandinavian country’s justice system sends some of its most dangerous criminals—drug dealers, rapists, and murderers, included—to Halden, known as the world’s “most humane” prison.

Inside Halden, the interiors of the inmates’ cells hold similarities to a boutique hotel room. The high-security prison ironically trades bars for windows. Prison guards get chummy with their charges and act as mentors. The compound is situated in the middle of a forest and closed off with an impossibly tall concrete wall.

Within its walls, Halden’s inmates co-exist peacefully. There are hardly ever records of violence and attempted escapes. The BBC reports that Norway has accomplished one of the lowest recurrences of crime in the world.

The concept of this prison, which has baffled and intrigued most people, is to act as a rehabilitation center for the country’s Most Wanted men. Ultimately, it’s mission is to prepare prisoners for their lives outside Halden’s walls, where they will eventually incorporate themselves as citizens in the future.

Prison guard Linn Margareth Andreassen told the BBC that Halden's atmosphere allows inmates to live the life they never had, especially for those who are uneducated. They work, study, and attend rehabilitation and therapy sessions in their casual clothes.

“Of course, a guy should suffer when he’s made other people suffer,” she says in a video interview, “but we have to focus on the person and why did this happen? How can we make it work outside without this happening ever again?”


The end goal for these prison guards is to transform inmates into functioning members of society, given that the Norwegian justice system has eradicated the death penalty in 1902 and limited prison sentences for most crimes to 21 years.

A typical day at Halden begins at 7:30 a.m., when cell doors are unlocked and each of the male inmates is encouraged to spend the day outside, engaging in various activities. Gudrun Molden, one of the architects behind the prison, told the New York Times that when he and the team were conceptualizing the site, they thought of giving the prisoners room to roam the outdoors (still within the walls of Halden) and connect with nature while completing their tasks. Molden’s party thought the inmates should at least be given the opportunity to take walks as they would in the outside world.

The guards at Halden undergo a different training, as they have to complete a two-year university course with courses in human rights, ethics, and law before taking on the job. Apart from counseling and engaging with inmates, the guards have to ensure that inmates have homes and jobs to return to after serving their time. One of the prison's values includes strengthening the inmate's ties with family members.

While British and American journalists and psychologists have come to examine the prison and its successful methods, it still receives flak for its annual costs. In 2016, Channel 4 News reporter Simon Israel said that a year in Halden costs about £76,000 per prisoner per year, which is double of the average amount spent on prisoners in the U.K. Then again, the crime rate in Norway is relatively low and Halden holds around 245 prisoners, which makes the model more adaptable.  

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The prison’s resident psychologist Jon Vinberg argues: “When we’re talking high-security level, we probably save money for society.” He adds that the expenditures of crime, from police investigations, time in court, to damages, may be avoided and in the long-term, saves the government’s money. “[Our] society has chosen to invest resources in mental health care and helping people get back into society.”

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Hannah Lazatin
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