How Norway designed a more humane prison

How Norway designed a more humane prison

These photos look like they’re from a hotel,
or a fancy college dorm room. There’s a gym, common areas, and private
bedrooms. But this place, just outside Halden, Norway, is a prison. There’s no barbed wire, lots of greenery,
and striking contemporary art. Inmates even have pretty great views out of
their cell windows. It’s all part of a plan to make prisons
more humane — through design. The underlying philosophy behind humane prison design argues that the look and feel of a
prison shouldn’t be a punishment. And the first thing designers focus on is
the basic architecture of prison buildings. In most prison architecture, facilities are
consolidated into one contiguous building. A courtyard design uses a rectangular building
around a central outdoor space. In a telephone pole design, rows of buildings
are stacked like a ladder. And radial designs have corridors that branch
out from a central hub, like spokes on a wheel. While these layouts are good for moving lots
of inmates around efficiently, they restrict prisoners to identical indoor hallways day
after day, and tight quarters can unintentionally create tension and conflict. So humane prisons are often laid out in a
campus design, where facilities are split between separate buildings, with a surrounding
perimeter wall. At Norway’s Halden Prison, housing is located
here, while education and visitation spaces are here, in separate buildings. This means most inmates have to start their
day with a commute — mimicking life in the outside world and providing easy access to
outdoor physical activity. And unlike other layouts, which have windows
that look out onto the prison itself, campus design gives inmates a rich view of their
surrounding environment. This access to nature also helps inmates track
the passage of time. Spending time outside and seeing days and
seasons pass through windows helps reduce this problem. Plus, the grounds of humane prisons are usually
landscaped carefully. At Halden, tall birch and pine trees dwarf
the buildings and obscure the perimeter wall, lending what designers call an “anti-authoritarian”
feel to the campus: inmates are never made to feel intimidated by the architecture itself. Building materials influence humane design
too. In other prisons, interiors are made from
hard materials like concrete, linoleum, and steel. Materials like this block light, are visually
unappealing, and constantly reflect noise. In prisons like Halden, you’ll see glass
to let in natural light, and materials like cork and wood to muffle noise. But humane prison design isn’t just about
architecture and materials. It’s also about what happens inside the walls. Halden’s design affects the way correctional
officers and inmates interact. Because housing is broken up into small communities
with a shared kitchen and communal space, correctional officers can easily monitor inmates
through regular face-to-face contact, instead of observing large groups of people from a
distance. And the guards’ rooms are intentionally
designed too small, to incentivize them to move out into the inmates’ common area. Campus layouts help that relationship flourish:
A study of architecture in Dutch correctional facilities found that campus design ranked
highest in inmate-staff relationships. And US prison studies from the late ‘90s
found that this style of direct contact resulted in fewer violent or security-related incidents. Designing these humane prisons costs money. Which is why most of the groundbreaking work
is happening in Western Europe and Scandinavia, where smaller prison populations and more
robust social support systems allow for more flexible experimentation. And because US prisons often prize cost-saving
over design, it’s still uncommon to see them here. But places like Halden are setting a new precedent
for what the prison of the future could look like. It might feel counterintuitive to create pleasant,
well-designed spaces like this for people who have committed crimes. But under a design philosophy like this, being
imprisoned is the punishment — the architecture doesn’t have to be.

Danny Hutson

100 thoughts on “How Norway designed a more humane prison

  1. The average Norwegian is a millionaire that’s why there is a low crime rate, not because of the prison. I really do agree however that prisons should be more humane

  2. Most people don’t have freedom even though they are free. They work all day to have nothing to show for it. They work work work, go home, and work work work. JUST to survive. Many people would prefer to live here for free and have no worries. Prison should be scary, it would make people not want to be there. (Although I think only the worst criminals should be there. Murderers, rapists, violent people, etc)

  3. I hate the entire concept of prison that one person can decide that another has to spend up to the rest of their life behind bars without ever experiencing life from their perspective

  4. Judge : i shall sentence u to jail for 15 years.
    Me : can i pick wich prison?
    Judge : yes?
    Me : then i pick this one *shows this vid *

  5. I’m all for this. But child predators and child murders need their own area in the basement with no access to any of those luxuries. Sorry🤷🏻‍♀️

  6. If you’re so poor you might as well commit a crime in Norway. Then you would have food, somewhere nice to live and somewhere to learn

  7. yeah but there are certain times in which heinous crimes are committed that are so evil the perpetrator needs punishment for what they have done such as gang rapes and mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

  8. The point of prison is to prevent people from wanting to go to prison. Therefore giving people a reason to not commit crimes. That is why if you are a felon you shouldn’t be able to vote. If you are sentenced to prison is should not be comfortable. Because people those reasons should be always in the back of your head when you think of committing a crime. Secondly how about let’s spend our taxes on the people who are not in prison first.

  9. If Scandinavia united and deported the clear majority of all immigrants it would have been the closest we have come to an Utopia.

  10. They are encouraging the prisoners to go back to commit more crime just to go back to jail and live rent free and free food…c'mon ..if I go to jail, I wanna not go back to jail and turn my life around for change

  11. I'm ok with the concept and all but… Those prison rooms are luxurious compared to the dormitory of my University. And that is frustrating…

  12. And here I thought prisons were supposed to be a deterrent from doing crime. That prison is nicer than my house. I bet what Norway will do next is give rapists and murderers mansions and 10 meals a day.

  13. Remember people prison in Norway are nice, but you don’t have freedom in prison.

    You can’t access social media, travel, shopping, go to restaurant, go to the movies, doing fun stuff and etc.

  14. I think the future of prisons should overlook the city, to signify their lack of freedom, rooms are confortable and hyper modern, lots of greenery and natural lighting and windows, cells should have wooden doors with a window, a personal shower, bed, and desk, cafeteria would feel like a mall inside, basically like a college but instead of classes its "cells"

  15. Everyone who has been released from prison say they are s good person after because of themselves. They have the time to think about what they should have done and how to be better. It’s not the harsh environment they are scared of.

  16. I support humane prisons. Sometimes people grow up in a bad environment due to circumstances out of their control and they never learned how to be a part of a functioning society being considerate of another. There are plenty of people who deserve a second chance and obviously this type of prisons would be set apart from those who are repeat offenders of violent crimes in which they're most likely not suited for this type of place.

  17. Norway's architecture of prisons are brilliant. Just wish the US president would speak on making the education systems and prisons more humane rather than spending billions on a "wall".

  18. For example, in the USA they punish prisoners for what they've done, which mabye will lead to them doing more crimes, and the goverment will lose some money.

    In Norway, prisoners are having a great time in the prison, which will make them a better person, which will lead to less crimes, and they can get a job, and pay taxes and become a better person.

  19. Prisons are not supposed to be humane. They are supposed to be hard time. Nobody would come back to my prison. Sledgehammers and Rocks. For killers…..Chaingangs. Death Rows. Executions.

  20. I wish American prision could be like this but it is hard to replicate another country’s system and expect it to turn out the same way with the same results.

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