Inside Halden Fengsel, a high-security jail in Norway, inmates select their very own clothes. Knockoff monitor fits from designer manufacturers akin to Karl Lagerfeld are favored.
They purchase contemporary produce from their well-stocked grocery retailer and chop onions with knives from their shared kitchens.
They play in bands and stroll within the woods and pray in a sleek holy room the place clerestory home windows beam daylight down onto slate flooring and a compass exhibits the path of Mecca.
However what shocked California corrections officer Steve “Bull” Durham most on a current go to to Halden wasn’t the prisoners however the guards — how relaxed and comfortable his Norwegian counterparts had been, and the way casually they interacted with the inmates.
“I’m blown away by it,” he mentioned.
Durham has been a California corrections officer for 25 years, a lot of it within the distant reaches of Tehachapi, east of Bakersfield. He seems just like the form of man you’d nickname Bull. Huge and bald, he leans ahead when he walks, like he’s battling the wind, or the world.
I met him on the sidewalk in entrance of the elegant Grand Resort in Oslo, simply down the road from the stately Royal Palace of King Harald V.
Durham was one among a couple of dozen members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., or CCPOA, the union that represents the ladies and men who work in our prisons, who let me tag together with them to Norway lately.
They had been there to see firsthand what all of the hype is in relation to the so-called Scandinavian mannequin of incarceration, which California hopes to import in coming months.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is within the strategy of changing San Quentin into an establishment — through the “Scandinavian technique”— that’s centered on rehabilitation, not punishment.
Tiny, wealthy, predominantly white and with a inhabitants roughly half that of Los Angeles County, Norway doesn’t look like a superb mannequin for something in California. However Newsom isn’t attempting to copy what Norway does, simply adapt the essential premise to create a shift in how and why we incarcerate.
The Scandinavian technique acknowledges that folks hardly ever go to jail for all times. As an alternative, it focuses on the fact that most individuals who go into jail are going to come back outagain, and it’s safer for all of us if they’ve a plan and the abilities for a future that doesn’t embody extra crime. That credo calls for that jail is made to be extra humane, and extra normalized, turning the guards into at the least part-time social employees.
“It’s radical,” Durham mentioned, however he’s all for it.
The CCPOA has lengthy supported Newsom. However additionally it is one of many hardest and strongest unions within the state and isn’t identified for soft-on-crime stances. So it could shock some that the union helps the Scandinavian mannequin, at the same time as fentanyl, homelessness and a misguided concern of rising crime have mixed to swing the political pendulum again towards extra incarceration.
Durham, a CCPOA vp, mentioned corrections officers in California are actually sick and drained from being cogs in a machine that doesn’t work — for society, for these incarcerated or for guards who need a profession that doesn’t kill them.
“We’re bored with seeing our companions in a casket,” Durham mentioned. “The stuff that we see just isn’t good.”
Being a U.S. corrections officer just isn’t an ideal gig, union advantages apart. It comes with ranges of hysteria, melancholy and post-traumatic stress dysfunction that far outpace different professions, even in legislation enforcement.
Corrections officers are fast to inform any listener that the psychological stress and fixed menace of violence eat at their well being, leaving them susceptible to illnesses together with coronary heart assaults, ulcers and fallen arches. They drink an excessive amount of, get divorced usually and die by suicide at a fee 39% increased than the remainder of the working-age inhabitants, in line with the Vera Institute of Justice. Their life expectancy is greater than 15 years beneath the nationwide common.
Many individuals assume they’re all abusive brutes, in dead-end jobs.
“It comes right down to the psychological well being and well-being of our workers,” Durham mentioned. “We now have to attempt to change.”
Durham shared these miserable statistics as we rode in a bus to Halden, about two hours outdoors of Oslo, on an overcast day in September. The drive there took us by means of picturesque fields the place cattle milled round sturdy barns, then up into hills coated in spruce and pine. It felt like traversing the again roads of Napa to Tahoe — all stylish ruralism.
Nothing about our arrival at Halden dispelled that, no armed guard towers or razor wire. The one clue this was a jail was the practically milelong wall that surrounds it, 20 ft excessive and curving on the high with an class that Scandinavians appear in a position to put into every thing they construct, no matter objective. It was, as a sure former president would possibly describe it, a giant, stunning wall.
“Jeez, have a look at that wall,” one of many officers exclaimed as we stepped off the bus.
Critics deride Halden as a luxurious jail that coddles, however it’s the star of the Norwegian system, opened in 2010 with a design and a mantra: Jail shouldn’t be outlined by the agony of discomfort and concern. The punishment for these incarcerated at Halden is being faraway from household and associates — being behind the wall. Not the expertise inside it.
Earlier than Norway embraced this new mannequin of incarceration within the Nineties, its prisons appeared very similar to ours do as we speak and recidivism charges had been stubbornly excessive, hovering close to 70% for some crimes. Now, although not as little as many had hoped, these charges have fallen to about 20% of individuals re-offending inside 5 years of launch — one of many lowest recidivism charges on the earth.
In California, about 45% of these launched are convicted of a brand new crime inside three years; about 20% return to jail.
The jail inhabitants in Norway is vastly smaller than ours — Halden holds about 250 males, fewer than your common county jail — however there are similarities with the U.S., beginning with racial variety. Forty p.c of prisoners in Norway are usually not residents by start — they arrive from greater than 25 international locations, lots of them migrants from locations together with Sudan and Pakistan.
Ninety p.c of inmates have been recognized with a psychological sickness, and about 70% have a character dysfunction. Greater than half have solely a main faculty training.
Gangs, mentioned Helge Valseth, the governor of Halden (our model of a warden), are a giant downside, within prisons and out.
What’s completely different at Halden isn’t the prisoners however the guards, Valseth mentioned.
In Norway, corrections is a career that has pathways into different branches of legislation enforcement. Officers begin off in a two-year faculty program, paid as they go, and should proceed their training, Valseth mentioned. The Norwegian guards union has a partnership with administration that permits officers to have a say in how a facility is run, who’s employed and what the insurance policies are.
In all, mentioned Tor Erik Larsen, a pacesetter of the Union of Norwegian Correctional Companies Workers, it’s a superb job — one which comes with respect and offers work that feels significant. Beneath the Scandinavian system, expectations of and from corrections officers prolong far past sustaining management.
“I have to know what makes a person tick,” Larsen mentioned. “And he must know what makes me tick.”
That philosophy is known as dynamic safety. In the US, we use static safety: lockdowns, physique armor, mace. Rehabilitation is essentially left as much as inmates to determine on their very own by means of a hodgepodge of applications — some good, some questionable.
The Norwegians depend upon relationships to take care of management and extremely educated corrections officers to be deeply concerned in rehabilitation.
Remedy, job expertise, dependancy therapy — corrections officers in Norway are answerable for facilitating all of it, and for constructing the belief and mutual respect wanted for inmates to really feel like somebody is on their facet in relation to altering, it doesn’t matter what crime they dedicated.
Durham is aware of there shall be many California officers who are usually not simply skeptical, however downright hostile to that concept — he’s cognizant that it appears like telling officers, “Hey, to any extent further you must hug each inmate in your unit.”
However Durham believes the present system leaves inmates with out sufficient autonomy to learn to be completely different. All the pieces is finished for them or to them. He makes use of the grocery retailer inside Halden for example. Within the U.S., meals come and go on a tray, no effort required. In Norway, many amenities solely present one pre-made meal a day. Prisoners are inspired to purchase groceries, make meals for themselves, share meals with officers and fellow inmates and clear up afterward.
U.S. prisons “are usually not educating [inmates] any life classes,” Durham mentioned. In Norway, “they provide them the flexibility to perform in life.”
The identical goes for officers, Durham mentioned. Proper now, U.S. corrections officers have few alternatives to work together with inmates aside from holding order and imposing self-discipline partially as a result of guidelines usually forbid getting too shut. U.S. officers, Durham mentioned, should be trusted to behave as mentors — like their Norwegian counterparts.
It’s that mutual respect that makes the Scandinavian mannequin work. And it does work. Violence is uncommon at Halden.
I met an inmate named Roger (I’m not utilizing his final identify for privateness causes) in a jail auto store. Roger was incarcerated for sexually abusing his daughter, he mentioned.
A round-faced, bespectacled man, he was altering the oil on an Audi — largely unsupervised by officers — surrounded by instruments that in the US could be thought of weapons: a hefty hammer, socket wrenches, saws, a drill. Within the subsequent room, different inmates had been utilizing energy instruments to chop wooden.
As a toddler molester, Roger is the kind of prisoner who usually wouldn’t be secure in a U.S. jail — all the time underneath menace of assault from different inmates and sometimes appeared down on by officers.
He’s the form of man that almost all of us have a tough time feeling empathy for. However sooner or later within the not too distant future, Roger is getting out — as are most individuals who go to jail within the U.S.
At Halden, Roger mentioned, he’s studying “ not take into consideration my little one like an abuser” would.
Norway, like a lot of Scandinavia, has a popularity for permitting the widespread good to often outweigh particular person wishes and calls for. That philosophy presumably makes it simpler to create a system that helps somebody like Roger.
However U.S. tradition prizes vengeance. What number of occasions has some variation of “I hope you rot in jail” been uttered with righteousness in movie and tv?
Our tradition desires wrongdoers to endure, even on the expense of public security. However as uncomfortable as it’s to listen to Roger speak in regards to the assist he’s receiving, isn’t that what we should always need? For criminals to cease seeing the remainder of us as prey?
“It’s been an actual good program,” Roger mentioned. “I’m beginning on the bottom ground and build up.”
Down a hallway I met David, who was from Lithuania and serving time for promoting medicine. The dearth of concern, of guards and different inmates, he mentioned, took away a lot of the stress of being in jail. It allowed him the house to consider his future.
“I don’t must be afraid that one thing will occur,” he mentioned. “I don’t suppose I’ll come out a worse individual. I really feel I may come out higher.”
Tiffanie Thomas, a San Quentin corrections officer who was on the tour, instructed me bringing this method to California “appears sensible.”
As a feminine officer who is commonly alone and outnumbered at San Quentin, she has lengthy relied on relationships with inmates for her security and theirs.
“We do a whole lot of this already,” Thomas mentioned. “We simply didn’t have the phrases to place to it.”
However, she added, relationships take time. If the state brings the Scandinavian mannequin to California, it’s going to require one thing that may, even when they assist the mannequin, make each jail officers and reformers sad:
Extra corrections officers.
Proper now, there are too few officers on obligation to spend any significant time with their costs. The California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has 21,220 correctional officers and a statewide jail inhabitants of 93,649 — although that’s anticipated to drop by practically 10,000 in coming years. At San Quentin, there are 833 rank-and-file corrections officers and three,504 incarcerated individuals, in line with CDCR.
Typically, there are two officers assigned to greater than 120 inmates, Durham mentioned, and that may soar to 160 relying on the ability and the time of day.
Thomas mentioned she has been in control of as much as 200 inmates without delay. In Norway, every guard is answerable for just a few dozen inmates at most — a quantity that has elevated due to funds cuts, a lot to the consternation of each guards and administration.
However to the officers I used to be touring with, it was nonetheless unimaginably low.
Durham by no means dreamed of spending his life inside prisons. Who does?
A Central Valley child, he joined the Navy to flee the expectation that he would comply with his father into development. At 18, he discovered himself married, with a son and on the brink of deploy. However his spouse on the time was recognized with a psychological sickness — bipolar dysfunction, he mentioned — in an period when such issues had been barely understood, a lot much less talked about.
At some point, she took too many muscle relaxers. Whereas he was attempting to assist her, his child son, crawling round their waterbed, swallowed a penny. Durham scooped everybody up and made it to the hospital, however it was a breaking level.
He left the army and moved again residence and shortly discovered himself a single father. He wanted assist and stability and a job in a spot with out many choices. So he grew to become a jail guard.
No regrets, he mentioned. However “if it was me, alone, I in all probability wouldn’t do it. However I needed to assist him.”
The job has taken its toll. His first week, he witnessed a stabbing. His old-school associate barely mentioned a phrase about it, he mentioned. However then, that associate hardly ever mentioned something helpful in any respect. He was left to determine a international and brutal world largely on his personal.
Through the years, there was an countless stream of trauma. The primary time Durham had to assist decrease a hanged man, he remembers the legs in his face, and being grateful for the energy to carry the person up, despite the fact that it was too late. Greater than 20 years later, he remembers that inmate’s identify. Beale.
He is aware of there are “unhealthy apples” within the career and there are actually too many cases of officers committing crimes and abusing their energy. He’s additionally heard the criticism that it doesn’t matter if corrections officers like their job or not, as a result of not like inmates, they’ll depart each time they need.
At the same time as we rightfully shrink our jail inhabitants and rethink insurance policies that turned incarceration into an business, the fact stays that prisons will live on as a result of society does demand accountability for committing crimes.
The Scandinavian mannequin doesn’t promise to finish crime or repair society’s issues. However it has answered an apparent if ignored query: If guards haven’t any hope, how can prisoners?
Strolling out of Halden down a gravel path on the fringe of the forest, Durham instructed me it was “bizarre” to see corrections officers smiling and laughing at work. The go to gave him hope, although he is aware of that because it did in Norway, change will take a long time in California.
Rain began to fall and the air took on the colourful scent of moisture hitting earth.
Forward of us, a person with a scooter walked with a person pushing a wheelchair, oblivious to our method. I couldn’t inform if both or neither had been inmates, however it didn’t appear to matter, to us or them.
For the primary time, possibly in his life, Durham was relaxed inside a jail wall.