Woodcutting, farming, fishing: not activities most people worldwide associate with prison. But in Bastoy, an island prison in Norway, freedom and rehabilitation for prisoners is coupled with the lowest reoffending rate in Scandinavia. This recent article in The Economist explores the prison system in Norway, and suggests that other countries have a lot to learn from “the world’s nicest prison”.

After Norwegian prisoners have served time in a regular prison and proved their wish to reform to the authorities, they may apply to be transferred to Bastoy. Whereas inmates in other facilities are heavily policed and have little freedom over their actions, in Bastoy the prisoners themselves maintain the island. The prison’s focus is on teaching responsibility and creating “good neighbours”, so that once inmates are released, they can move on from their criminal history and contribute to society.

Norway’s humane approach towards prisoners seems effective: only 20% prisoners are reconvicted within two years, almost half the rate of many US states, even though only hard cases—which are more likely to offend—are incarcerated to begin with. Amidst a global climate where the number of prisoners is steadily rising, the drop in both incarceration and re-offending rates in liberal European countries seemingly proves that a less prison-focused justice system is effective in reducing crime.

At Bastoy, the main aim is effective rehabilitation of prisoners. Access to academic and vocational courses gives prisoners skills for employment, and they are even allowed to start working outside 18 months before release, to make the transition back to the outside world as smooth as possible. Cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling services are also widely available, improving prisoners’ mental health. 

Prisoners Abroad works to maintain prisoners’ psychological wellbeing by providing books and newsletters in English, as well as freepost envelopes to keep in touch with loved ones back home. In addition, we provide dictionaries to help British nationals learn the local language and communicate with those around them. For prisoners facing harsh conditions and social isolation, this support can be a vital lifeline to the outside world.

Prisoners Abroad also believe that rehabilitation is key to reintegrating into society after release from prison. Learn more about how we work with ex-prisoners resettling into the UK. (link)