Norway treats prisoners like human beings, killing (crime) with kindness

As incarceration rates remain concerningly high and reoffending rates rise throughout western Europe and northern America, it seems we might need to rethink our penal system. Fortunately, Norway is ahead of us with a somewhat radical approach.

From community service to losing a hand, we all know that punishment for the same crime can differ quite radically from country to country. Nevertheless, Norway’s newest approach to crime has managed to create quite a stir. Preaching the opinion that crime is best tackled with rehabilitation, Norway’s system practices this by providing criminals with structure, opportunity and most of all, purpose. 

Norway’s rehabilitative prisons are situated on islands, away from society, but functioning as societies of their own. Here, prisoners have proper accommodation, learn new skills, have jobs, and a sense of freedom. With the maximum sentence of 21 years and the lowest reoffending rates in Europe, Norway’s system appears almost ideal — both fast and effective. 

Photo: Marco Di Lauro

But, there is, of course, a number of uncomfortable questions lingering. Perhaps at the forefront of which is "why should we — or would — treat criminals with respect, give them structure, opportunity or purpose?" 

Norway’s answer: because it works! Put simply by a Bastoy Island prison guard: “Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.” 

With crime rates in steady decline (a 10% drop since 2014) this philosophy seems to be working as a deterrent both before and after the crime. And this fact also knocks the Western favoured "punishment is needed as a deterrent" argument right on its head.

So, there it is, all we need to do to overcome crime is treat everyone with respect, change our prison system, and find islands to host these alternate societies on — easy peasy. No, but really, Norway appears to have found a solution, one with an incredibly simple philosophy we can all learn from: kill (crime) with kindness.

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