Bastoy Prison Island – A Norwegian Prison That Works


(Source: “Bastoy: the Norwegian prison that works,” The Guardian, 3 September 2013, by Erwin James)

The following excerpts are from an article published by The Guardian about the Bastoy prison island. (source)

“I run this prison like a small society,” he says as we sip tea in his cramped but tidy office. “I give respect to the prisoners who come here and they respond by respecting themselves, each other and this community.” It is this core philosophy that Nilsen, 62, believes is responsible for the success of Bastoy.

“It is not just because Bastoy is a nice place, a pretty island to serve prison time, that people change,” says Nilsen. “The staff here are very important. They are like social workers as well as prison guards. They believe in their work and know the difference they are making.”

But how do you get the man in the street to accept that treating people who have committed terrible crimes with respect and consideration is in his and his family’s best interests. How do you explain to victims that this way is best?

“I don’t think I will ever be able to do that,” says Nilsen. “If someone did very serious harm to one of my daughters or my family … I would probably want to kill them. That’s my reaction. But as a prison governor, or politician, we have to approach this in a different way. We have to respect people’s need for revenge, but not use that as a foundation for how we run our prisons. Many people here have done something stupid – they will not do it again. But prisons are also full of people who have all sorts of problems. Should I be in charge of adding more problems to the prisoner on behalf of the state, making you an even worse threat to larger society because I have treated you badly while you are in my care? We know that prison harms people. I look at this place as a place of healing, not just of your social wounds but of the wounds inflicted on you by the state in your four or five years in eight square metres of high security.”

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