Saturday, May 7, 2011

Norway's Bastoy Prison

Norway's Bastoy prison is one of the most progressive in the world in its ideology and practice toward prisoners. It advocates a philosophy of restorative justice rather than punitive measures. From the statistics, it seems that the philosophy is working. For example, in Europe recidivism is about 70 percent. In Norway, it's 20 percent, and for Bastoy, it's 16 percent. According to Bastoy's governor, Arne Kvernvik Nilsen: "If you treat a human as an animal, he (or she) will turn into an animal." In Bastoy, even the guards associate with the prisoners, and eat meals with them. There is a trust-based relationship between prison staff and prisoners, and it seems to, for the most part, work. I think we Canadians might have some things to learn from Bastoy prison.
   For those interested, there are several films on Bastoy prison. Here are three recent ones. "Prison Island Bastoy," (2010), produced in the Netherlands by Michel Kapteijns and selected for the 24th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, examines the rehabilitative philosophy in practice at Bastoy and explores the lives of some of the inmates there.
   "King of Devil's Island" (Kongen av Bastoy, 2010), by Marius Holst, tells the story of Bastoy's early days as a boarding school and correctional institute. The film accompanies the exhibit "Bad Boy? Bastoy Boy's Home," which opened at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in December.
   "From President to Parliament," (Presidenten fra Bastoy fengsel, 2008), directed by Charlotte Rohder Tvedt, tells the story of Peter O. Ranginya an Norwegian-Kenyan inmate at Bastoy prison convicted of embezzlement, who decides to run as a candidate in the Kenyan Parliamentary elections. The film follows Ranginya during his return to Kenya and documents the election and his hard work and optimism. [ This post is based on information from the May 2011 issue of Viking, the Sons of Norway magazine.]
   You can also check out below this YouTube news report on Bostoy prison.


Kirby Olson said...

The Finns also have a very liberal prison system. The longest you can serve in prison is seven years, and it's quite humane. However, if it looks like you'll commit another crime, you get put into an insane asylum. They won't just let you out.

I wonder a lot about this.

We have quite demented people in the US, and by comparison the Nordic peoples are rather civilized overall. But you do hear of demented things there especially if you live there long enough (I spent five years in Finland).

One day a man taped his girlfriend's head with black tape in some kind of an S & M scenario. Then he started to tape on her head with a hammer. Suddenly he had the urge to break her skull in half and followed his urge.

Another kooky thing: a man sharpened sticks all winter and in the spring put them under the water in a popular diving spot in a small lake. When the kids jumped in, they became impaled.

Now these guys were probably insane, right?

another man had AIDS and tried to seduce women, never used a condom, and managed to "sleep with" over 200 of them. After two of them got AIDS, he told the police, but the doctors told me that there was only a 1% chance of transmission!

200 women, 2 women got it, the doctor was right, but his logic was poor, and he thought it meant that then it would never happen.

Maybe in some cases really good logic classes can help?

But what about the families of the murdered people, or those who now are going to die? Don't they want capital punishment? Is that too much to ask?

People who play loosely with other people's lives aren't necessarily crazy. They might just be reckless, or unable to think through whole problems. But whatever, they shouldn't be allowed back into the general population. Just my view. Not a very liberal one, I guess.

Dim Lamp said...

I think Kirby that you are dealing with the reality of sin and evil here in the examples you cite. A lot of post-modernists would likely rationalize sin and evil away and hold a high view of humans - i.e. that they can all be reformed. I personally do not think so, even though I do believe that every human is created in the image of God; yet we are as humans since the fall of humankind, at once sinners and saints. It is a dialectical tension that we shall live with all of our lives I believe. That is why we need God and his Son, Christ our Lord to offer us mercy and grace when we screw up and fail to redeem ourselves.

As for the prison system and crimes and punishment; I guess you can take different approaches. I think no system is perfect, even though Norway's one looks pretty close to it from the outside looking in -I'm a Canadian and so can only see it from my biased perspective.

In terms of horrific and premeditated crimes, we do need a sense of justice in society so that as the old cliche puts it: "The punishment should fit the crime." Or as spelled out in the Hebrew Bible, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This was not meant to place limits to retribution, not to necessarily encourage violence and war. However, I like what Gandhi said - that if we lived by such a principle then the world would be blind and toothless.

Then, of course, there is Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, with his "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" antithesis teaching. Not to mention his cheek turning, non-violent approach to violence. I think if we could live up to such teachings and practiced it, then there would be no need for the military, police, judges, prisons, etc. So we struggle as people of faith in the world, and try to balance between justice and mercy.

One of the things that struck me about the Norway system though was what the chief warden or whatever his proper title was, said: "If you treat people like animals, then they become like animals." Treat them like humans, and hopeful they become more humane. I do agree with you about locking some folks up permanently, if they are beyond reform and repeated offenders though, and harmful to society as a whole.

Anyways, I've gone on enough for now. Thanks for your comments and insights. Shalom.

Dim Lamp said...

Correction: In my last comment, by mistake I wrote: "Or as spelled out in the Hebrew Bible, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This was not meant to place limits to retribution, not to necessarily encourage violence and war." The last sentence here should read: This WAS meant to place limits..."