16% Re-Offending Rate: Norway’s Approach to Prison
But although it is only one, liberal, end of a penal spectrum, the open prison where inmates wander woods, fields and beaches unhindered is still an important symbol of the Norwegian system. Indeed, to many, it is the jewel in its crown.
“Fundamentally, we believe you have to start with prisoner rehabilitation on day one,” Ms Bergersen. “Everybody knows that when you are released in Norway you can be somebody’s neighbour.
“It is in the public interest, when it comes to security, that you receive rehabilitation when you are inside the prison system so that you can go out and lead the life that everybody else takes for granted.”
Bastoey might be seen as the softest option by some. Its inmates are among the most hardened criminals.
For the prison’s governor, Arne Kvernvik-Nilsen, Bastoey is a personal project, the embodiment of an ethos in which he has the belief of the evangelical.
“If this were a holiday camp for criminals, what’s the problem if I can show you the result?” he asks.
The result he refers to is a 16% re-offending rate among former Bastoey inmates. It is by far the lowest in Europe, quite possibly the lowest in the world.
“This island is supposed to be as much as possible like an ordinary small, local Norwegian community. This prison is in many ways the opposite of an ordinary prison. Here, as an inmate, you have to be in charge of your own life, take responsibility.
“I do not believe in this old way of thinking that you should respect me. In order for you to do this, you first have to learn to know what respect is, starting with respect for yourself. Then I can start to talk to you about why you should respect me and my neighbour and your neighbour too.”
It would be hard to attack the prison on grounds of expense. Bastoey is significantly cheaper to run than conventional penal institutions. Its proportion of guards to inmates is much lower.