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Norway's Prison Regime

Episode 3 of 4

43 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 16 April 2014

In a new series of thought-provoking debates, Claire Bolderson looks at something another country does well, or differently, and asks whether it could work here.

Re-offending, or recidivism rates, are difficult to compare from country to country because of different methodologies and metrics. However, it's clear that rates in the UK are amongst the highest in Western Europe, and worryingly high amongst criminals who have been released from prison. As prisons reach full capacity, the cycle of crime, punishment and re-offending needs to be broken. Norway might provide a solution, since it boasts a re-offending rate of 20%, the lowest in Western Europe.

Prisons appear to play a different role in Norway - less about punishment and more a place of rehabilitation. One in particular - Bastoy, an open prison on an island south of Oslo, where only 16% of released prisoners re-offend - has received widespread international attention. How far is its success attributable to the environment or a more humane philosophy? Guards are trained in criminology and psychology, and inmates enjoy a lifestyle described by critics as being like a "holiday camp" (despite the fact it is cheaper to run than most Norwegian prisons).

What is prison for, and what can we learn from Norway?

Produced by Jennie Walmsley and Ruth Evans
A Ruth Evans production for BBC Radio 4.


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