I work as a correctional officer in a high security level prison in Norway, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. AMA!
I have been working in a high security prison in Norway for a year now, and I have experienced the combination of a punish/rehabilitation program, and it does not work the way it is intended.
Norway is kind of a socialist state, with over 50% of its working mass being employed within the state, and the prison is one of these places. It’s driven by tax money, it’s highly buerocratic and has a low level of high end technology. It seems that the more primitive, analog way of running things, is just a way for the state to create jobs. Anyway, Norway is a small and peaceful country, so there is no prison riots and very few cases of shanking etc. I have sat down and watched murder series on the telly with cold blooded killers, I have played ping pong with rapists and arm wresteled with creepy pedophiles. These social phenomenons is not representative for the rest of the worlds prison population, and I think therefore this AMA can turn out interesting
It’s maybe not enough proof, but this picture of me in my uniform is all i got.
Have a nice monday!
What do you mean the punishment/rehabilitation program isn’t working as intended?
Okay, I gathered my thoughts about this, and I will try to lay out an answer. The intention of the imprisonment itself is a mixture of different factors. One factor is to protect society from further crimes, another factor is to show the society that lawless behaviour wont go unsanctioned (even though many people get away with criminal actions). Further more, as the prisons in Norway has developed, we have taken one step further and told ourself, by law and by common consensus that the time in prison shall not only be a place to throw away time, but to also be productive in some sort of way. We also have a lot of common wealth at our disposal through our nations oil business. With this being said, one should think that staying in a Norwegian prison would be like a “hotel”, or that it is better to be in prison than being poor outside of prison. That is not true. We try to help our inmates as much as we can, but the states creative solutions around rehabilitating seems to have stagnated. Along comes the financial plans and economic strategies towards prisons. “They are as good as they need to be”, I can hear people say. This might be true, concidered other nations prison conditions, but compared to what we could have achieved in Norwegian prisons, there are always room for improvement. One of the biggest issues with the balance between the punishment and the rehabilitation is the worn down mentality of the oldest CO’s, and the elder generation of the administration and politicians. We deal out drugs (medicine) to addicts, and they get addicted to the medicine, in addition to the street heroine. We give psychiatric help to those in need with suicidal thoughts, but only on wednesdays. We will give you work after your prison time, but only if you accept to work for the lowest wage possible.
I guess my frustration goes out on how the same inmates come in and get out again, several times a year, for small narcotic cases, and causes lots of state cost. We treat drug addicts the same way we treat violent criminals. We dont separate thieves from child abusers. I think that to achieve successful therapy, it needs to be outside the prison walls. Especially for drug addicts. They need not to be sanctioned with prison time, just pure rehabilitiation. We need a fragmation of how we treat our criminals. Sorry for the long and messy answer, I gave up trying to structure it. Have a good evening, gents!
What has been the most enjoyable experience?
My most enjoyable experience so far is making heroine addicts smile and laugh through a game of cards, and making reflexive conversations with hard criminals about their own identity and moral ground.
Do you feel that this makes them feel more human than if they were treated like horrible people like other countries do in their prisons?
You’re definitly right, you can say that its based on an humanitarian perspective. Trying to be free from all prejudice is a hard task, but along the way you can see and listen to the inmates in another light, which I think is the essence in a rehabilitation process.
What’s the most dangerous criminal you encounter?
It depends what you define as dangerous. Some of the murderers are decent, calm and reflected persons. I would generally say that the inmates who serves small time sentences for drunken violence etc. are more “dangerous” (read: more unpredictable) than the killers.
What was the worst thing you experienced until now?
- Being attacked by an inmate with two pointy pieces of a snapped wooden broomstick.
- With mandatorial monitoring of outgoing phone calls, being forced to shut down the inmates private phone calls with their children, due to strict telephone time limits. It herts my hert.
What do you think of the prisons and police in your neighbouring countries? Sweden, Denmark, Finland etc. Are there any major differences?
Most of the nordic and the scandinavian countries are similar in their policy of restrainment and punishment. It has been a populistic statement than Norway has the neatest rules of incarceration in the world. This is semi-true. It may be so because we have only 5 million inhabitants in Norway. Denmark and Sweden are somewhat bigger, and therefore encounter other problems in their prisons. But all in all, we are very much alike, due to our common “nordic welfare model”.
Have you ever seen an inmate released that you personally thought that he was gonna be a danger to the outside world? Also the opposite, have you known an inmate that was wrongfully there or had more time to serve despite being fully rehabilitated?
I have encountered inmates out in the society. I have not met any inmates that i have an outside relation to. But this often happens to others, as Norway is a small country, and even a single gunshot in a urban area gives head liners in the national newspapers.
You mentioned that despite your prison being high security it is relatively calm (little violence inside the prison). What would you say contributes to this? I’m asking because here in the US I often hear about large scale riots/violence etc.
Norway has about 4000 inmates at all times, distributed into 45 different prisons nation wide. That is very few compared to many other countries. The low rate of violence inside the prisons is based on two things as I see it;
- The structural aspect: Every cell in Norway is an one-inmate individual cell. This makes the cell violence/killings lower. We generally separate all inmates in few-populated wards by 20 individuals.
- The trust aspect: We are giving our inmates a lot of autonomy, and by giving them responsibilites such as jobs and free education, we generate a more friendly bond. There are also strict sanctioning systems if they do brake the rules, such as withdrawal of visiting hours and access to recreational activities.
Despite being a high security prison, nearly all wards have recreational spaces with couches, chessboards and a well functioning kitchen and lots of refridgerators for their food bought from the in-prison grocery shop. We are trying to imitate the outside world, for rehabilitation purposes.
How do you keep the cells tidy and clean? Do you have to hire for this or are the convicts allowed/required to do so on their own? I’m talking like serious cleaning and stuff. I know it’s a weird question, but I figured (might be a little judgemental) some of them might try to make weapons out of cleaning utensils if they are in fact cleaning the cells themselves.
You are absolutely right, even though almost no-one makes weapons and attack fellow inmates or CO’s, the possibilty of someone doing it is enough to make strict regulations of what kind of tools to give the inmates. When it comes to cleaning, every inmate has the responsebility to keep a tidy cell, which are checked by us regurarly, and sanctioned when its not up to par. When an inmate moves out, one inmate (whichs job is to clean the common area, take out the dishes and such) cleans the whole cell and makes it fresh for another to move in. There are long imprisonment lines in the norwegian legal system, so one cell is not unpopulated for more than a day. The inmates are generally not very tidy (of course there is variations), but its like a military service, we make them clean their own rooms and keep good manners. Everything else is frowned upon.
Have drugs found their way into the Nordic prison you work at? What types of rehabilitation programs or medications are provided for heroin addicts?
There is no place on the norwegian map that you cannot get your hands on drugs. They are illegal, therefore they are unregulated and available everywhere. The most common drug abuse in prison is the legal ones. Let me explain. Heroine addicts get on a progamme called LAR(medicine assisted rehabilitation). This is to fight the abstinences the absence of heroine gives you. The inmates gets Subutex and Subuxone, strong syntetic morphine. We litteraly give out tons of drugs for free each year. These pills get barfed up and traded between inmates when we dont pay attention. Also, we dont have organic scanners, so we cant stop the hash/amphetamine flow which comes from inside visitors assholes, then swapped into the inmates assholes in the visiting rooms. We only look for metal. We confiscate a lot of illegal drugs yearly.
Is Breivik a weirdo?
I have not met Breivik, but I would believe that he has an intellectual capacity of which he uses in the wrong mental direction. He has a misconception of how the world works, but he has been diagnosed mentally stable (no insanity pledge) by experts, so he gets the same rights as any other prisoner.
Are the cells that good? I heard it has wifi.
Some inmates do have internet access within the educational program. This is a heavily surveilled and nearly 100% blocked internet, but they have wikipedia and some other stuff. It should be said that this is on stationary computers in a room far away from the cell wards, with strict time and access limits. They do have a TV on every cell, and can also buy an Xbox, and loan games from the small prison library visits, arranged one day a week.
Do they block Reddit?
I do believe so :<<
How is the food in Norwegian prisons, compared to Norwegian food outside of prison?
The kitchen is runned by a mix of inmates and chefs. The main challenge, that goes for every institutional food system, is that you have to make food for a lot of people simonaniously. This always decreases its quality. Since its state driven, the ingredients are of the cheapest alternative and its not something to brag about. But sometimes the food is good, especially on fridays and sundays. Compared to outside-food, the prison food is like a imitation of a proper made dish. There is no connection to “norwegian food”. There is a mulitcultural environment in Norway, which also makes the food served both outside and inside the prison of a wide range of cultural variety.
Do the prisoners get meat with every meal or is it primarily plant-based?
It is a variation of fish, meat, vegan and such each week. If youre allergic, or cant eat something for religious reasons, you will get an alternative meal. But over all, there is one hot meal a day, driven on a cart out to each ward, and every inmate gently stands in line while we put food on each plate as they move along. This only works because we are a small nation with few inmates.
What is the most common crime that is committed in Norway, that gets people incarcerated?
Drinking and driving. This is really, really frowned upon in Norway, and norwegians in general frowns upon how easily Americans takes on this phenomenon.
What is your opinion on the American prison system? In particular punishments like solitary confinement?
I think that it is a lot of bad stuff that goes on in American prisons. Corrupt CO’s bringing drugs and weapons inside the prison, the whole “bail” option, death sentences, and overpopulation in mega-jails. Under these conditions, there is more likely that the time spent in jail will only accelerate your criminal behaviour, as the prison culture is harder and therefore more reproductive. On the other hand, Americas prison population and the criminal problems are thousands of times bigger than Norway, so there is little to no point of doing an comparison. The thing America can learn from other countries (and especially Norway) is rethink the policy of firearms. More guns, more killings and crimes, more inmates and more problems. But this is oversimplifying it, I know.
Roughly what percentage of prisoners are foreign borne or the children of immigrant as opposed to native Norwegians? Is there any animosity between immigrant prisoners and native ones? How good is Norwegian food?
Interesting question. The norwegian population in general has experienced some major changes in the past decades. This also affects the norwegian prison population. Where I am, we have 25 different nationalities, mosty from eastern europe such as Lithuania, Poland and Romania, but also many different African countries. 40 years ago, there was nearly 100% norwegain prisoners. This change brings with a cultural collision you can say, but it also enriches the inmates perception of the world. We have an Imam who holds a islamic seremony every other friday, and a christian priest who holds a traditional service every other sunday. It also enriches the menu from the kitchen (where 3 hierd chefs and 10 inmates work); you have to variate the food to satisfy over 25 different food-cultures! (but not to lie, the food is generally terrible, but sometimes its amazing)
As a prison guard and a Norwegian citizen, do you think that capitol punishment should be reinstated? You work in a high security prison and might have insight into that. Many people were talking about that after Breivik kill so many those years ago.
I can see few to none good arguements towards supporting capitol punishment. Public executions and humiliation declined in Europe around 1750, and towards 1825, it had stopped completely. The punishment has gone from punishing your body and flesh, towards a more sophisticated sort of punishment, namely stealing your time and freedom. This will keep you alive, and makes up time to think and reflect, which again can help you become a better person. It’s an important principle to undertake, that every human being has its value, that cannot be taken away from them, either by other people, nor the state.
Studies have shown that having a prisoner/guard relationship can bring out the worst in people. Do you undergo training aimed at reversing those natural tendencies? Or are there systems in place to help prevent that? (Experiment I’m alluding to: Wiki.)
The prison guard “school” (more like a three year long course) is highly based on treating one another with equal respect, all crimes aside. You should see past the criminal action of the inmate, and treat everyone as human. But I also agree that there is a latent mis-relation of power between the hacks and the inmates, but very few people use that power to dominate the inmates. They are doing their time and that is punishment enough. I dont know enough about biology to state that there is some primal instinct in us that seeks to dominate others, but we are taught not to do so, and if you do, you will loose your job in the blink of an eye.