Late one night in October 2015, North Dakota prisons chief Leann Bertsch met Karianne Jackson, one of her deputies, for a drink in a hotel bar in Oslo, Norway. They had just spent an exhausting day touring Halden, the maximum-security facility Time has dubbed "the world's most humane prison", yet neither of them could sleep.
Halden is situated in a remote forest of birch, pine, and spruce with an understory of blueberry shrubs. The prison is surrounded by a single wall. It has no barbed wire, guard towers, or electric fences. Prisoners stay in private rooms with en suite bathrooms and can cook for themselves in kitchens equipped with stainless-steel flatware and porcelain dishes. Guards and inmates mingle freely, eating and playing games and sports together. Violence is rare and assaults on guards are unheard of. Solitary confinement is almost never used.
The Norway sojourn was the brainchild of Donald Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, a California public-interest law firm. In 2011, while visiting European prisons with a group of Maryland college students, Specter was struck by how profoundly the experience altered their views on incarceration. He decided to use some of the legal fees his office had won in its lawsuits against California prisons to bring state corrections chiefs, judges, and lawmakers on similar journeys.
The Norwegian principle of "dynamic security" posits that warm relationships between inmates and staff reduce the potential for violence. American prisons typically try to create safe conditions by means of oppressive rules, random searches, and the threat of additional punishment. Transitioning from one approach to the other requires a profound paradigm shift and the ability to sell front-line prison workers on a brand new mindset. "How do you get somebody who thinks they're in law enforcement to figure out you need to be more of an empath, more of a social worker, a friend, and a mentor?" Jackson asks.
To read more of Dakasha Slater's article, visit, http://www.motherjones.com/cri...-prisons-experiment/