These Countries' Prisons Operate With A Drastically Different Philosophy

view of a street in norway
Zain Murdock
September 21, 2022


In Scandinavia, many incarcerated people live in open prisons - essentially cottages similar to American universities. They can vote, grocery shop, go to school, wear normal clothes, have private visitors, and get paid to work!


Beatings and torture aren’t what Scandinavian prisons are known for - the lack of full freedom is supposed to be the only punishment. Prison officers are “more like social workers,” ditching the weapons. The average sentence is about a year - and "life” sentences usually aren’t longer than 21 years!


Having prepared its incarcerated citizens to re-integrate into society, Norway specifically GUARANTEES every released person a job and a home. What?! And their recidivism rate matches the effort: 20%, compared to 76.6% in the U.S.


A critical difference between international prison systems is beliefs on why and how prisons exist in the first place. One of Norway’s prison superintendents is known for saying, “Treat people like dirt and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings and they will act like human beings.” 

In 2013, the governor added, "You don't change people by power.”

The U.S. prison system was specifically designed to violently dehumanize Black people and break down our communities. But we deserve actual rehabilitation, safety, and self-sufficiency. In fact, we deserve even better than Scandinavian prisons - we deserve abolition.

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