International Justice Exchange

Corrections as Rehabilitation: Norway Shares its Model of Success

The Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy in collaboration with The Tow Youth Justice Institute hosted panels for its series: "Corrections as Rehabilitation- Norway Shares Its Model of Success Parts I, II & III."


In Part I, we heard from Professor Thomas Uglevik of the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo, John Todd-Kvam, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Addiction Research, James Jeter, Co-founder of Full Citizens Coalition, and Program Director at Civic Ally-ship at Dwight Hall at Yale University, Barbara Fair, a LCSW and lead organizer at Stop Solitary, CT, and Mike Lawlor, J.D., Associate professor of Criminal Justice Department at Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. The conversation was moderated by IMRP's director, Andrew Clark, and Dr. Danielle Cooper.

Part I: Watch Here

"The punishment is the deprivation of liberty, but apart from that our job is to create as normal an environment as possible for people who are serving their sentences. Our goal is to prepare these men to reenter the community, that's our job."-Mike Lawlor, on his experience visiting a German prison

"In CT, people of color are less than 20% of the general population, but makeup over 70% of the prison population. I think one of the biggest factors in why we treat people the way that we do in America is because we don't respect the humanity of these people."-Barbara Fair

"The idea of removing [the right to vote for the incarcerated] has never been discussed in modern-day at all and it's seen, across the political spectrum, as total science fiction. It's not something we would even consider." -Professor Thomas Uglevik

In Part II, we heard from Elin Schie, Chief Prison Officer at Indre Ostfold Prison in Norway along with two other prison staff: Sander and JamesChristina Quaranta, Executive Director of CT Justice Alliance, and Robert Gillis a retiree from The Department of Corrections in CT. The conversation was moderated by Kelan Lyons of the CT Mirror.

Part II: Watch Here

"We have 2 years of training, and that includes 1 year in school with subjects like psychology, ethics, and much about the law. We're learning about why people do what they do, and how young peoples' minds are working- so you can meet young inmates with the knowledge of how they are reacting to being in prison."-Ellin Schie, James & Sander on working in Norway Prison“It’s just so helpful to hear that other places are doing restorative justice in the way it should be done. It gives me hope that it can be replicated here, and done here, with all people but especially with young people.” -Christina Quaranta

"I just want to work to get these guys out again-- to help them. To make sure one mistake is not the sentence of their life."-Sander on why he wanted to be a CO“People can see that there’s a better way and a different way. You’re still getting up and going to work every day. Your buildings are still standing. Just because you do things differently it didn’t break everything down. So, thank you for doing that.” -Christina Quaranta

In part III: The Rights of the Child, In this conversation, we heard from Per Sigurd Våge, Director of the Western Region of the Norwegian Correctional Service and Per Omdal, Former Assistant Prison Governor, Bjørgvin Prison Youth Unit West. These experts shared a powerful presentation about their experience building, designing, and working within the youth justice system in Norway. Their presentation was followed by a moderated panel discussion.

The panel consisted of:

  • Brittany LaMarr, Project Manager for the Juvenile Justice Policy & Oversight Committee, Tow Youth Justice Institute
  • Hope MetcalfExecutive Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School
  • Heather PancieraAssistant Child Advocate, CT
  • Danielle Cooper, PhDAssociate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, and Dr. of Research at Tow Youth Justice Institute

Moderator: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Investigative Report, CT Public

Part IIIWatch Here

On designing and building youth facilities in Norway:"The starting point was that the building must support the purpose and the function of the punishment of the prison. For example, we went to the childcare agency and asked them if it mattered to the youngsters if the floor was made of wood or if it was concrete or any other materials. And they said of course it’s important for the kids to grow up or to live 24/7 on a wooden floor. The same with decorations, the same with the special colors we chose and the size of the windows.”-Per Sigurd Våge

“The first thing that we heard when these young people came to the facility, to the building— they said 'I really don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this wooden floor. I don’t deserve this nice furniture. I don’t deserve this.' And that was exactly what we tried to create— something else because they were brought into a quite rigid system, but we wanted to show them that this is something else. We are building something that is in a way going to satisfy their needs and we want to show them that. And we were a bit worried at first that they were gonna destroy it but they didn’t. They really respected the building, they respected everything inside.”-Per Omdal

On education and training:“We needed the knowledge and competence of psychology. We went to the University of Bergen and they taught us a lot about child brain development and we have to share this knowledge with all of the employees in the youth unit so that they know there is a reason why they should not adapt or react to the children in a prison the way they have learned to do with grown-ups in an adult prison. Children should always be treated differently than grown-ups. If we don’t treat them differently they will become a role model of themselves-- self-mirroring. They look at themselves as angry or think they can behave without any rules and this continues until age 30 if they are not challenged, or taught to behave as part of their natural development.”“We knew their behavior was related to their cognitive health and development. We knew that punishment in itself is not the path to change. So just closing the doors and keeping them in a house for two years doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t recede the risk of them doing crime or unacceptable behavior again, so it is what we do while they’re in the juvenile unit that matters."-Per Sigurd Våge

The panel weighs in:“When we talk about youth in CT and probably in the US, the youth have to adjust to the system. The system isn’t adjusting to them. We focus so much on a building and not on the needs. So the kids are put into the system, and we try to say we treat them as children, we try to change stuff. But the reality is it’s an adult system with adult policies and staff and in order to change you really have to turn that upside down.”-Heather Panciera

“The floor should be what the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says. I want to emphasize that the standard set forth by CRC that says detention must be a last resort and for the shortest time possible, that is such a strange concept to us in the US. It’s so hard to wrap our minds around.”-Hope Metcalf

“It’s well known that there are root issues that drive young people into the system. There’s things like housing insecurity, economic insecurity, food insecurity, and different traumas and experiences that young people face that ultimately contribute to their contact with the system. I think in Norway they do a great job of creating intention behind what they’re doing in the spaces that they’re housing those high-risk needs young people… Coming from the top down is what we need to embrace. This is what we need to do. I feel we’re in a place in CT and in the US where we’re trying to do this from the bottom up. We have advocacy efforts, we have groups coming and saying this is what we need to embrace, and those who have positions of power- it’s not coming from them. So it’s an uphill battle here.”-Brittany LaMarr

“The way that Norway acknowledges that here’s a future for these youngsters, that in the space that is Correction that there’s opportunity for still acknowledging their humanness completely while acknowledging that their behavior is something that can be shifted and changed.“-Danielle Cooper“When we talk about who gets counted as a child in the US and who gets detained, we have to talk about race, we just have to. Children of color somehow in our system, given our history and continuing racism, they don’t count as children, period full stop. And we’ve seen this very ugly politics come up in this session in CT where quite a few legislators are actively running on a platform to further penalize children.”-Hope Metcalf

Final Remarks from Per Sigurd Våge“Exclusion of people from a society brutalizes, while inclusion will make people participate and participation is calming human beings and opponents. And also feeling a membership in a public society, which we try to implement what we have told you about this multi-agency process, as well as pushing some kind of responsibility to the inmates no matter how old they are could maybe make them worth more than just a number or a warehouse stored person in a prison.”

“All in the judicial sector we work with solidarity to the victims, that’s why we work there. We can punish the criminals but we don’t need to keep them criminals for the rest of their lives. So serving a sentence is also a responsibility for the government because we incarcerate people, we take care of them, we take power over their time. But we don’t need to stop giving them education, we don’t need to give them bad food or old rooms or short beds. And that’s the way we have to think in modern society.”

“We should not allow any prison systems to be run by guards. We need guards, but we don’t only need guards. We also need psychologists. We also need caretakers. We also need motivators."

In this conversation, there were several references to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which can be read here.
Most relevant to this conversation is Article 37 which follows:States Parties shall ensure that:A. No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;B. No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;C. Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner that takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;D. Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.Notably, the US is the only country that has not agreed to ratify the convention. Learn more here

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