Incarceration and Rehabilitation. The UK versus Norway

Incarceration and Rehabilitation. The UK versus Norway


With the increasingly high levels of violence and overcrowding in Britain’s prisons, is it time to find an alternative solution to crime? A look at the Norwegian prison system suggests that with a focus on rehabilitation, and ‘restorative justice’, prisoners can adapt to be model citizens, but with a meagre £23,000 spent per prisoner each year in England, is real change a likely prospect? 

As of July 12th 2019, The Ministry of Justice confirms that there are 82,962 people incarcerated across England, with 58% of these people living in conditions described as ‘overcrowded’. This affects not only the living conditions of prisoners, but also reduces the amount of resources and activities available to them. Furthermore an inquiry by the Prison Reform Trust found that there were 33,801 recorded physical attacks amongst inmates in 2018, and that sexual assaults have more than tripled since 2012. As a result of this, inmates are not adequately prepared for life outside, which no doubt contributes to the alarming 48% recidivism rate.

Contrastingly, in Norway the recidivism rate is at just 20%, which officials claim to be due to their ‘humane’ approach to incarceration. Described by some as “Prison Utopia”, inmates are settled into dorm-style private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, and are free to enjoy the nature and gardens each prison has to offer. Every prison has a functioning school, with inmates being offered classes in both academic and vocational courses. There are also several activities such as tennis, farming and cooking for the inmates to keep themselves occupied with.

The prisons are a safe environment for rehabilitation, which means that the guards and prisoners are left with a lot of time to interact. Inmates are encouraged to settle any arguments through mediation, as a result physical fights are extremely rare, and guards don’t even carry protective pepper sprays.

Norwegian authorities reject the punitive approach, claiming that the removal of freedom is punishment enough. Rather, they aim to rehabilitate prisoners and allow them to repair any damage their actions may have caused. Inmates are taught coping mechanisms for real life scenarios and are given the right to vote and be educated, mirroring a life outside of prison.

While Norway’s “humane” system of incarceration clearly works, the question remains of how it can be implemented in England. While the price of running a prison in Norway is £84,000 per inmate per year according to the “New York Times”, it is seen as cost effective as far fewer people enter the system in the first place, and far fewer people reoffend. The Office for National Statistics claims that for every 100,000 people in England, 139 are in jail, which is exceptionally high compared to Norway’s 63 in 100,000. However, the problem of mass incarceration is not just localised to England. It is a crucial issue around the world, as 45% of all countries have a prison population rate of above 150 per 100,000. With around 10 million people in prison worldwide, if more countries implemented a system similar to Norway’s, could we see a decrease in the number of prisoners, and a higher success rate for those moving on from incarceration?

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