Bastoy, Norway is home to the world’s nicest prison. Its prison island features woods, fields, beaches and other luxuries not common in prisons. Kristin Bergersen, the junior minister of justice has said: “I think the debate we are seeing in Norway right now establishes that we have the right values and the right system for punishment here. . . . Fundamentally, we believe you have to start with prisoner rehabilitation on day one. Everybody knows that when you are released in Norway you can be somebody’s neighbor.”
The prisoners in Bastoy are handpicked. Lamin, a 30-year-old prisoner that has been interviewed on the subject says, “I feel like I’m in training – practical job training, but also training to be a better person. It’s like a test they are giving me and when I go outside and try to live a normal life, I will see if I have passed.”
The prisoner’s governor is Arne Kvervik-Nilsen, who spearheads the project and has the firmest belief in its ethics. Kvervik-Nilsen estimates that 16% have a re-offending rate, a rate far lower than any other in Europe. He says “This island is supposed to be as much as possible like an ordinary, small, local Norwegian community. This prison is in many ways the opposite of an ordinary prison. Here, as an inmate, you have to be in charge of your own life, take responsibility.”
The prison is significantly less expensive, and requires fewer guards. The program aims at not punishment or revenge, but seeks to rehabilitate or reform prisoners. Prisoners report for work from 8:30am to 3:30pm.
While it may seem naïve for Norway to allow criminals to serve sentences here, others argue that hand-picked criminals in the ending phase of their sentence benefit greatly from the time here. While the prison is relatively new and the future success uncertain, the numbers are significant enough to keep an open mind towards it.