While most prisons are known to impose strict boundaries on dangerous inmates, there is one facility in Europe that favours a gentler – and much more radical – approach.
Halden Prison is a maximum security facility in Halden, Norway, which was designed humanely to give prisoners a surprising level of comfort in their lives behind bars.
Inside, private one-person cells look much more like cushy college dorm rooms, with ensuite toilets, TVs and personal fridges all creating a relaxing and homely environment, while cell blocks also have their own kitchens and laundry rooms.
Inmates are given a full working week to provide training in a variety of fields for the outside world, including mechanics and graphic design – while those learning about restaurant prep are even allowed to handle sharp knives.
There is also an on-site recording studio called ‘Criminal Records’ for anyone wishing to learn more about music, while also contributing to a regular radio show.
They then get weekends off, with a dedicated house available for overnight visits with their families.
At Halden, which houses everyone from drug smugglers to murderers and rapists, prisoners are trusted to interact closely with guards and tutors, being welcome to play a game of chess or take walks together.
The prison was featured in season three of Netflix series World’s Toughest Prisons, where presenter Raphael Rowe admitted he was ‘blown away’ by his visit, saying the rooms were better than some hotels he’d stayed in.
“I can honestly say it is the cleanest and most humane visionary prison I have ever seen,” he said.
“Their focus is 100 percent on rehabilitating prisoners to make them into the neighbours you and I would want to live next to.”
But Rowe also said that, beneath the ‘illusion of normality’, the ‘controversial’ facility still had measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety around dangerous inmates, including having 350 staff to 250 prisoners.
At one point, Rowe spoke to Theo, a self-confessed ‘football hooligan’ from Holland who had smuggled 200 kilos of hash, and now worked on the inside as a maintenance man for his block.
@PrisonStorm #Halden in Norway arguably the most humane prison - where I filmed an episode of Inside The Worlds Toughest Prisons @netflix - UK @MoJGovUK could learn a lot! #HJSummit pic.twitter.com/14vjddr5qs— Raphael Rowe (@raphaelrowe) November 26, 2019
Asked about how he found the prison experience, Theo said: “There's no bars, and it’s not like a prison prison. Still, we are inside, so you cannot go anywhere and you miss your family. It’s still prison.”
Rowe pointed out that inmates at Halden were treated with unusually high levels humanity, dignity and respect.
“It could be a palace, but you still cannot get out,” Theo replied.
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