Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Can you imagine being arrested for a crime and being sent to prison for it? The very idea of prison conjures up thoughts of dread. We have heard the horror stories coming out of prisons and have seen visceral images of prisons in movies and documentaries. When I hear the word prison, I immediately think of a dank and dark setting, water leaking from rusty pipes, Rats running across those pipes, cinder block walls with paint chipping and peeling from them and being stabbed by someone while walking to the shower or the dining area. I think of big iron doors being slammed shut behind me, inmates being abused and raped by other inmates, guards beating prisoners who act out and a lot of yelling and screaming.
This is not the case at a prison in Norway. Halden prison is the second largest prison in Norway and was built in 2010 and focuses on rehabilitation of its inmates. Conflicting reports say that the prison holds a maximum of 248-252 inmates. This is not a 700 bed prison that houses 3,000 inmates who are locked down for 23 hours a day. The prisoners in Halden are locked down for 12 hours a day, which isn’t too bad since each cell is a single cell that looks like a big college dorm room. The cells have a seemingly comfortable bed, a desk with a comfortable chair, and large windows with no bars on them so the prisoners can get more natural light in their cells and can see more of nature. The cells also have a flat screen television, a mini-fridge, a toilet and a shower stall. There are also no CCTV in the cells. Halden prison also has a million dollar art budget and the walls throughout the prison have calming pictures and art such as flowers and Parisian streets. The walls themselves in the prison are painted in neutral and pastel colors to sub-consciously keep their minds at peace.
There are private rooms for visitors to meet with their families for up to two hours and there are rooms for conjugal visits for the married inmates. These conjugal rooms are painted red to promote passion and they have a sofa, a sink, a cupboard with sheets, towels, and contraceptives. For families visiting, there are larger rooms with many amenities including baby-changing facilities. The prison was designed to make prisoners feel they are part of a community. There is a large gym complete with basketball hoops and a rock climbing wall, a jogging trail is set up in an area that has many trees around it and wooden benches for the inmates to sit on if they get tired of jogging. There is also a large soccer field that the inmates can use. Inside the prison is a music studio where the inmates can perform and record music and songs, and play instruments. Of course there is a dining area but each 10-12 block cells has a common room with sink, stove, refrigerator, porcelain plates, and stainless steel silverware so the prisoners can prepare their own meals with the supplies they can purchase from the prison grocery store. Half of the prison guards are women and the guards do not carry guns. Guns are viewed as a source of tension. The prison also has a state-of-the-art dental office that are nicer than most civilian dental offices.
Halden prison has been given the title as the world’s “most humane prison” and James Conway, a former superintendent at New York's Attica Correctional Facility, during a prison tour said in a documentary "This is prison utopia. I don't think you can go any more liberal — other than giving the inmates the keys.” The prison is not just for Norwegian criminals either as prisoners from around the world are sent here for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation being the key word here.
Do yourself a favor and look up Halden prison on the interwebs so you can see pictures of the facility and the grounds and to read more about it.