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Incarceration in Norway

Incarceration in Norway's criminal justice system focuses on the principle of restorative justice and rehabilitating prisoners. Correctional facilities in Norway focus on the care of the offender and making sure they can become a functioning member of society again. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, currently 20%,[1] with approximately 3,933 offenders in prison,[2] and one of the lowest crime rates in the world.[3] Norway's prisons are renowned for being some of the best and most humane in the world. Norway does not have the death penalty or sentence people to life imprisonment. The maximum custodial sentence is 21 years,[1] however the courts do have power to add to sentences as they see fit during sentences if they do not feel the offender has been fully rehabilitated.


Prior to the introduction of the restorative justice system, Norway had a punitive justice system. In 1968 Norway's people were unsatisfied with the harsh living conditions of the correctional system[4] and the Norwegian Association for Criminal Reform (KROM) was formed.[4] KROM attacked the penal system which depended on medical treatment of offenders. The offender was treated medically and, depending on the success of the treatment, they were incarcerated for an appropriate term. In 1970 the first act was to abolish forced labor systems. By 1975 juvenile delinquency centers were abolished. The penal model was a failure, with a recidivism rate of 91 percent.[5] According to the creators of it at that time recidivism was not the problem, and their goal, to abolish juvenile delinquency centers and forced labor camps, was completed therefore making their first movements successful. At the time this system helped to pioneer the way for a new way of treating offenders. As of 2017 KROM remained active.[6]

Prison population

According to the World Prison Brief website, Norway has 3,933 people within their 54 different institutions as of January 2017. Of those 3,933 people that are inside the prison, 23% are remand prisoners or awaiting their pretrial. There are only 0.1% juveniles within their correctional system. There is also only about 6% of females within the prisons which makes the male percentage 94%. Of the total prison population in Norway, a little more than 30% are foreign-born, rather than Norwegian natives.

The official capacity that Norway can hold inside of their prisons is 4,092 people which means that their institutions aren’t over capacity yet. They still have plenty of space to put people that they find guilty of committing a crime. However, the number of people that are being locked up has been increasing in the last decade or so. As of the year 2000, there were about 2,500 people locked up inside of the correctional facilities in Norway. In 2008, there were just below 3,400 people locked up and in 2016, there were 3,850 people that were locked up. The prison population rate jumped from 57 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 73 per 100,000 people in 2016. Although this may not be the highest jump, it still shows that there is an increase of incarcerated people in Norway.[7]

Restorative justice in Norway

Norway has one of the lowest incarceration and recidivism rates of the world, their method is so effective other countries use the “Norwegian model”. Norway prefers to use alternative penalties, also known as “penalties in society”,[8] but "penalties in prison" are still used.

Penalties in society

Penalties in society means, that the offender will serve their time out of jail, they will have to meet with an official a specified number of times as per ordered by the court. In return then can stay out of prison if they follow the order by the court, in most cases they retain their current employment, or the court orders employment, they get to continue being with their families (children, spouses, etc.), they can often continue their normal life but without crime. Penalties in society only are put in place if there is no burden to be put on the victims, their families or society as a result.[8]

Community service is the most common penalty in society, it is measured in hours not days, months or years. Approximately 2500 people are sentenced this form of punishment a year and the hours can range from a minimum of 30 to maximum of 70, the average number given to an individual is usually around 70 hours and they should be completed in under a year.[9] The community service is usually spent in social work, the individual spends their time in churches, schools, kindergartens, volunteer organizations and social organizations. Community service may include “change programs”, treatment, special conversations and other programs that may be included with the crime. The correctional system has a right to add other conditions like prohibition of drug or alcohol use, outside of the court orders. The correctional system will draw up a “implementation plan” under the guidelines of the court order, then they can add programs or conditions as they see fit for the crime committed and the individual. This plan should include all aspects of the community service, other sanctions, and other programs with timing, location and people involved.[9]

Electronic monitoring or electronic control is one of the most popular methods of penalties in society. It is an electronic ankle GPS that must be worn at all times, it monitors the individual, it can only be used the last four months of probation or imprisonment and the individual qualifies to wear one. While wearing one it cannot be removed and if it is an alarm is triggered, the individual can only go home, work, school or permitted areas (education or job training).[10]

Anti-doping programs are court ordered alternative program that would otherwise be unconditionally imprisoned. The crimes are driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal and legal drugs. The goal is to give awareness of the crime and the dangers of what could have happened. This program is only for the offender not for the general public.[8]

Drug program with judicial review (ND) is an alternative to unconditional imprisonment for drug and alcohol addicts. The crimes that can get the offender into this program is anything drug related, including crimes to fund the addiction if the crime can be rooted to the drug addiction it can land them into the program.[11] The judge has to issue the alternative, the criminal has to agree they want to get clean, the correctional institution has to agree, and a personal survey has to be completed by the correctional authority. After the prosecutor files all of the claims and they are accepted there will be a two to five-year program controlled by the court. Once the program is implemented there are four stages: implementation, stabilization, liability and continuum. Throughout the program the program will work with correctional services, municipal services, education services, mental health services and specialist health services. Throughout each stage and preset markers, the individual must meet with the court to check progress, and after the program the Freedom Care Authority can check on them after the implementation. In order for the program to be completed all the stages must be completed and the program must be completed during the allotted time.[11]

Penalty in prison

There are currently 43 prisons in Norway, five of which are strictly female, and all prisons are driven by the “import model”, the import model means services are given to inmates just as they are given to those not incarcerated i.e., health services, education, access to library, etc. The longest sentence allowed in a Norwegian prison is 21 years, although the new penal code allows for a 30-year maximum sentence for crimes related to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. While the average sentence is about 8 months long. The punishment used in the correctional system is the restriction of liberty, no other rights are taken away from the individuals. Because of this belief, an offender inside a prison will have the same rights as an ordinary citizen. They will try to place offenders in the lowest security area when possible because they believe that if a system is more institutionalized it makes it harder for the offender to successfully return to the community. Therefore, someone will proceed towards release starting from high security prisons, then moving to a lower security prison, then through a halfway house, and eventually released into the community.[12] There are three levels to Prison High security Level (closed prisons), Lower Security Level (open prisons) and Transitional Housing.[13] Closed prisons have walls, fences around the compound, inmates are locked in, and under control of corrections officers. Norway's laws forbid the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment as punishment. Prison conditions typically meet the international standards, and the government permits visits by any human rights observers. The system is considered to be transparent, and prisoners are represented by an ombudsman, an official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against public authority.[14]

When inmates are not at work, school or in recreational activities they are with correctional officers and in their cells. All the prisoners have the right to study and are allowed to vote while in prison.[15] Inmates have their cells searched once a day and are granted very few pre-approved personal items. Urine samples will be collected if needed, usually targeted at random within the population of inmates who have a known history of drug addiction.[16] The majority of Norwegian prisons (sixty percent) are a closed prison.[13] Open prisons only lock inmates in their cells, houses or rooms at night, the prison campus is open but inmates still cannot leave. Calls are intercepted but phone use is permitted. Open prisons encourage contact with the community, through safe means i.e., visitation, exit, and other adaptations. Transitional housing is used when part of a sentence is completed, the prisoners are still in the prison system but control over them is less strict. Transfer to transitional housing has to be pre-approved for the safety of the community. Transitional housing gradually returns inmates to society with social training and professional training. It sets up an inmate with a network to use once they are released back into society.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Why Norway's prison system is so successful". Business Insider. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total | World Prison Brief". Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  3. ^ "As The Right Bemoans Norway's Criminal Justice System, It Is One Of The Safest Countries On Earth". Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b Mathiesen, Thomas (1974). "The Prison Movement in Scandinavia". Crime and Social Justice (1): 45–50. doi:10.2307/29765889. JSTOR 29765889.
  5. ^ Papendorf, Knut (2006). "'The Unfinished': Reflections on the Norwegian Prison Movement". Acta Sociologica. 49 (2): 127–137. doi:10.2307/20459921. JSTOR 20459921.
  6. ^ "'Inmates behave because they actually like being here': what I learned at a Norweigan [sic] prison". The Spinoff. 14 April 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  7. ^ Norway.(1 January 1970). Retrieved 8 February 2018, from []
  8. ^ a b c "Program mot ruspåvirket kjøring -". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Kriminalomsorgen". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Ønsker du fotlenke - elektronisk kontroll? -". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Narkotikaprogram med domstolskontroll -". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  12. ^ About the Norwegian Correctional Service. (2018). Retrieved 7 February 2018, from []
  13. ^ a b "Type fengsel og sikkerhet -". (in Norwegian). Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  14. ^ Norway. (11 March 2008). Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  15. ^ Anders Breivik: Just how cushy are Norwegian prisons? (16 March 2016). Retrieved 17 February 2018, from []
  16. ^ Shammas, V. L. (2014). The pains of freedom: Assessing the ambiguity of Scandinavian penal exceptionalism on Norway’s Prison Island. Punishment & Society, 16(1), 104-123.