For more on the United States’ complex prison system, watch the CNN Film “American Jail” Sunday, July 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
Heated floors, bike rides, and five-star cooking classes. Welcome to prison in Norway.
It looks nothing like most prisons in the US. That’s because Norway’s prison system is designed with three core values in mind: normality, humanity and rehabilitation. The point of incarceration in Norway, they say, is to make inmates “better neighbors” once they are released – and they take that mission very seriously. Listen to this prison guard talk about his job:
In the US, prison is generally seen as punishment for crimes committed. But Norway might change that. As part of a CNNgo special, “Welcome to Prison,” we witnessed how one state has been trying to make dramatic reforms back home.
In 2015, prison directors and lawmakers from North Dakota traveled to see Norway’s prisons for themselves. The trip was part of a program that takes state officials to visit the country, which has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world. When the leaders returned, North Dakota slowly began making changes to its prison system.
Example A: Here’s one facility that looks a lot different today than it did two years ago:
The move has been controversial with some prison staff, and has raised a lot of questions about the role prisons play in society. The changes called for different dynamics between inmates and corrections officers, causing one of them to leave over what he believed was a fundamental shift in their training.
Beyond the Frisbee games and free pizza, North Dakota’s prison directors say the benefit in the long run – reducing the state’s recidivism rate – is worth giving this new approach a chance.
If the goal is to make them better neighbors, North Dakota inmate Jonathan McKinney says it’s working. He spent more than two years in and out of solitary confinement during part of his 17-year sentence for murder and other serious charges. Because of Norway’s influence, prison officials allowed him to transfer to medium security when he showed good behavior – a move that he would not have been able to make as easily before. Here’s what he had to say about his new living quarters:
Visit CNN.com/go to watch the complete documentary, “Welcome to Prison”
CNN’s Margaret Dawson, Nick Scott, Bryce Urbany and Frank Fenimore contributed to this story.