Lessons from Norway: Justice built on rehabilitation

The Norwegian Green Party's International Secretary explains how Norway achieves such low levels of reoffending through humane imprisonment

Andrew P Kroglund
Tue 25 Apr 2017

Many countries experience rampant prisoner recidivism, which is the rate at which formerly imprisoned offenders re-offend. In the United States, 43 per cent of former inmates re-offend within one year of their release, and the figure for the UK is also very high. In Norway, by contrast, a mere 20 per cent of released prisoners re-offend within two years.

Intellectuals and experts agree that the Scandinavian approach to criminal justice is quite effective. Norway runs its system under a 'guiding principle of normality'. This principle drives the government to foster prison environments that resemble life on the outside as closely as possible. Thus, prisoners retain their full range of rights, other than absolute freedom of movement, while they are incarcerated.

This principle of normality and rehabilitation, rather than punishment, along with the preservation of civil rights for inmates has produced a prison system that, from the outside, probably would be considered to be among the best in the world. Some of the more well-known corrections facilities, Bastoy and Halden, are often visited by foreign delegations in order to learn about a more humane prison policy.

The Norwegian corrections system sticks closely to the ideal of normalisation. Its sentencing laws ensure that when the state detains a person, isolation is brief. Its prisons are structured and operated to ensure that the prisoner's brief isolation from the world is as normal as possible.

The Norwegian system is based not so much on punishment, but more on rehabilitation. Broadly speaking, the Norwegian system considers the criminal as a symptom of a diseased environment. It seeks to remedy the offender's attitudes by normalising their circumstances.

There are, of course, challenges, and the Norwegian Green Party would like to see the system improved further. The Norwegian criminal justice system has failed when it comes to preventing deaths amongst drug users, for instance, as well as with some aspects of drug law enforcement. The Norwegian Green Party wants to improve the penal system further, making possession of drugs for private use legal, more in the line with some other European countries, like Portugal.

For more information in English, visit: kriminalomsorgen.no/information-in-english.265199.no.html