Primary Menu

IPCA Blog Post – June 2021 – Terje Salvigsen

June 29, 2021 Uncategorised

Status quo for the Nordic prison system

How the high security system operates and how it helps inmates with long sentences.

I am a chaplain working in Ringerike prison in Norway, a high security prison with 160 single rooms. I have also worked a couple of years in low security prisons.My knowledge is of course the Norwegian system, but is a lot in common with other Nordic prisons.

The Nordic correctional service is maybe the best in the world. One reason is that the Nordic countries have good economy. Then we have good facilities and many employed to support the inmates.

But it is also clear which values we want to keep among the employed. From 2021-2026, this is our strategy:

The task of the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service is to ensure a proper execution of remand and prison sentences, with due regard to the security of all citizens and attempts to prevent recidivism by enabling the offenders, through their own initiatives, to change their criminal behaviour.

The vision is for both the employed and for the inmates, “Punishment that changes”. Hopefully this will give a dynamic energy among the employed and the prisoners.

All activities within the Correctional Service are to be in accordance with our values:

  • Safety
  • Transparency
  • Innovation

More specific, this means that punishment is the restriction of liberty; no other rights have been removed by the sentencing court. Therefore the sentenced offender has all the same rights as all other who live in Norway. No-one shall serve their sentence under stricter circumstances than necessary for the security in the community. Therefore offenders shall be placed in the lowest possible security regime.

I am not sure that we succeed in this, we have closed down a lot of low security prisons lately in Norway, and many people must do their sentence in high security even if they have shorter sentences.

During the serving of a sentence, life inside will resemble life outside as much as possible.

The possibility to implement the principle of normality is of course limited by security reasons and the framework of the correctional management, the differences in the prisons and personnel, infrastructural and financial resources. Yet the basic principle is there, and deviation from it will need to be based on argumentation. You need a reason to deny a sentenced offender his rights, not to grant them. 

In Norway we  have a model, called import model. Crucial services for reintegration are delivered to the prison by local and municipal service providers. Prisons do not have their own staff delivering medical, educational, or library services. These are imported from the community. Also different faith and clergy services are provided through the import model.

The advantages are:

  • A better continuity in the deliverance of services – the offender will already have established contact during his time in prison;
  • Involvement from the community with the prison system – more and better cross-connections.  

A lot of this text is taken from internet pages from KDI/ Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service, and it gives a very good presentation. But is it credible? We also struggle, we have the latest years lost much of the programs for drug and violence, we struggle with isolation, many inmates sit alone in their cells for 22 hours a day for no special reason. And for many people with health issues, both fysical and psychical, and the prison system can not handle this the way I see it as a chaplain.  Finally, we also struggle to send people out in the society. Many goes back with big depts., no normal contacts and into a very hard labor marked. At the same time, this is also where we succeed. Every man and woman working in the justice system, want to help the inmates to return into good lives again. With that motivation and with research on this challenges, we move small steps all the time, hopefully in the right direction

Terje Salvigsen is on the IPCA Europe Steering Committee and a Prison Chaplain in Norway