Prison guards in Norway train for two-years in a special program which includes seminars on human rights, ethics and law. Warden Heidal oversees between 250 and 340 prisoners.
This week the University of Oslo admitted mass-murderer Anders Breivik into their Political Science program. It caused astonishment and chagrin for people across the globe. Understandably so. But, equally understandable is the decision, as explained by Ole Petter Ottersen, rector University of Oslo:
The fact that his application is dealt with in accordance with extant rules and regulations does not imply that Norwegians lack passion or that anger and vengefulness are absent. What it demonstrates is that our values are fundamentally different from his. […]
Having been admitted to study political science, Breivik will have to read about democracy and justice, and about how pluralism and respect for individual human rights, protection of minorities and fundamental freedoms have been instrumental for the historical development of modern Europe. Under no circumstances will Breivik be admitted to campus. But in his cell he will be given ample possibilities to reflect on his atrocities and misconceptions.
I have written before about Halden Prison — in which Breivik is held — that time leaning on the photographs of Fin Serck-Hanssen. I still hold that a prison should never alter or lower its operations to equal the depraved levels of its most infamous and criminal prisoners. As institutions, Halden Prison and the University of Oslo are both conducting themselves in ways fitting for a resolute and lawful society.
Gughi Fassino‘s photographs from Halden show us the very contemporary facilities and programs available to prisoners.
I am not interested in famous prisoners; they are famous because their crimes were extraordinary. The disproportionate amount of press coverage they get distorts the debate and distorts our impressions of what a prisoner is. I am more interested in the non-violent prisoners (a category that is proportionally much higher in the U.S.) that wallow in overcrowded prisons and don’t have access to meaningful programs.
Rehabilitation, education and vocational activities REDUCE recidivism and in turn REDUCE the financial burden to society. Men released from Halden Prison succeed at a much higher rate as compared to those released from other prisons in Norway, released from other prisons in Europe and by a distance compared to those released from U.S. prisons. Only 20% of Halden prisoners reoffend in the three years after release. The figure in the U.S. is 65-70%.
Roughly 90% of U.S. prisoners will eventually be released; they need help readjusting after years looked up and they need reason to buy into our society. We don’t need cycles of crime to persist and to pretend prison conditions aren’t the largest factor in that equation is a refusal to deal with the issue. WE deserve better prisons.
So as we look over Fassino’s photographs, let us not think about what these facilities mean for Breivik but what similar facilities could mean for the 2.3 million American prisoners and society as a whole.
View more of Fassino’s photographs here.