An American warden visits Norway's 'prison utopia'

Descendants of Sigurd the Crusader, 12th-century King of Norway and scourge of the Saracens, have done something even sillier than what their Minnesota brethren are predicted to do next week – namely, re-elect Stuart Smalley (I mean Al Franken) to the Senate, ensuring that their state remains the laughingstock of the republic for six more years.

As reported here, retired superintendent James Conway, who worked at New York’s Attica Prison for 38 years, got the shock of his life when he visited Holden Prison, one of Norway’s newest correctional facilities.  “This is prison utopia,” said Conway, adding that if Attica inmates could have designed their own jail, “it would have looked a lot like Holden.”  He summed up his impressions of the place this way: “I don't think you can go any more liberal – other than giving the inmates the keys.”

So, is this a case of lunatics running the asylum?  First, there’s Holden’s idyllic, woodsy setting, located about 100 miles south of Oslo (though only about five miles from the Swedish border!)  Jan Stromnes, deputy head of the prison and Conway’s host for the tour, explained that the architect suggested the facility “keep as much of nature as possible” so that inmates could serve under “normal conditions” – a key principle of the Norwegian prison system.

“Normal conditions” evidently include providing inmates the following – see photos in the report cited above:

  • Spacious living rooms complete with large TV sets and a dartboard.
  • Kitchens equipped with real knives and forks.
  • A workshop stocked with sharp tools and hammers.
  • An Xbox and a recording studio, including electric guitars.

Wouldn’t this encourage people to commit crimes so they could be housed at (or return to) Holden for an extended vacation paid for by Norwegian taxpayers?

The report didn’t indicate if there’s a “wait list” for Holden Prison.  The report also did not say whether Holden currently houses Muslim prisoners.  Islam is the second-largest religion in Norway after Christianity, with Muslims representing as much as five percent of the population.  In 2013, government statistics registered 120,882 members of Islamic congregations in Norway, 7.7% more than in 2012.  As reported here, last April, Norway's education ministry approved an application for Oslo to get its first Muslims-only school. Google Maps shows three mosques in Oslo.

King Sigurd could not be blamed for wondering why his men fought and died in the Crusades for this.

If you experience technical problems, please write to