for a while Norway shocked the world by the state of its prison. To many of us Norwegian prisons look like a really comfortable spot for weekend outings where even people charged with murder get to handle knives and are jolly with the rest of the inmates (yes, the inmates seemed equally jolly, at least on camera).
Maybe it is some kind of innate human jealousy that we have had trouble understanding such system. The last place we want to send our criminals to is a place resembling a luxurious spa resort, right ?
On the other hand, the system seems to be working. There are fewer criminals returning to prison than in most countries. We should probably look at the context before we make our judgment. We could say that Norway with GDP per capita around 100’000 USD is a pretty rich country. We could also say that it is in quite a remote part of Europe and scarcely populated considering there are 5 million people spread at the rate of 14 people per square kilometre. It is probably safe to assume that if you have a small and super rich society you would expect low crime rates. Due to its location, the Norwegian society has been pretty homogenous too. The number of immigrants has risen considerably only in the past few years.
So is the efficiency of Norwegian prison system owed to the specific environment of the country and inapplicable elsewhere ? In the way it is set up now I believe it to be true. If you take it as it is and import it to places like the US it would be an unmitigated disaster, because other Western societies, US in particular, has much greater problems with racism and social inequality that surely has an effect on crime rates. I believe, however, there is a lesson to be learnt from Norway.
Contrary to many action movies, violence, terror and fear breed many more villains than Bruce Willis-type heroes. Instances like the Stanford prison experiment and the subsequent research of Dr. Zimbardo into human behaviour points to the idea that if terror and fear brings out the worst in people, why should we expect it to deliver good results when used as means of correction ?