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Halden Prison

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Halden Prison
Interior in Halden prison.jpg
Interior of the prison
LocationHalden, Norway
Coordinates59°8′25.703″N 11°17′11.55″E / 59.14047306°N 11.2865417°E / 59.14047306; 11.2865417Coordinates: 59°8′25.703″N 11°17′11.55″E / 59.14047306°N 11.2865417°E / 59.14047306; 11.2865417
Security classMaximum
Population251 (as of 2015[1])
OpenedApril 8, 2010 (2010-04-08)
Managed byNorwegian Correctional Service
GovernorAre Høidal

Halden Prison (Norwegian: Halden fengsel) is a maximum-security prison in Halden, Norway. It has three main units and has no conventional security devices. The second-largest prison in Norway, it was established in 2010 with a focus on rehabilitation; its design simulates life outside the prison. Among other activities, sports and music are available to the prisoners, who interact with the unarmed staff to create a sense of community. Praised for its humane conditions, Halden Prison has received the Arnstein Arneberg Award for its interior design in 2010 and been the subject of a documentary, but has also received criticism for being too liberal.


Located in Halden, Østfold, Norway,[2] Halden Prison was built for over 10 years at a cost of 1.5 billion Norwegian kroner ($252 million/£138 million/€150 million).[3][4] The prison received its first inmates on March 1, 2010[5] and was officially opened on April 8 by the Norwegian King Harald V.[6] It is Norway's second-largest prison[7] with a capacity of 248–252 prisoners[a] and a site of 75 acres (30 ha).[3]

As a maximum-security prison,[7] it hosts dangerous as well as highly dangerous criminals,[11] such as rapists, murderers, and child molesters.[4] They compose half of the population, while a third of the residents are drug offenders.[1] Sex offenders, who may face violence from other inmates, and prisoners who require close psychiatric or medical supervision, are located in Unit A, a restrictive and separated area.[1][4] There is also a special unit (C8) focused on addiction recovery.[1] Most inmates live in Units B and C, which are freer and have mixed cell blocks.[1] Halden Prison receives both domestic and international criminals; as only around three-fifths of the prisoners are Norwegians (as of 2015),[1] both Norwegian and English are used, and the prison has English teachers.[4] However, fluency in Norwegian is a requirement to live in C8, because group and individual counseling is conducted in Norwegian.[1]

There are no conventional security devices, such as barbed tape, electric fences, towers, or snipers.[1] However, there is safety glass,[10] a 6 m × 1,500 m (20 ft × 4,921 ft) concrete and steel wall,[7][10] and a system of tunnels which guards use to walk through the prison.[7] Although there are surveillance cameras on the prison grounds, they are not present in the cells, the cell hallways, the common rooms, the classrooms, and most of the workshops.[1] While there is little violence reported, almost exclusively in Unit A, officers try to prevent it.[1] If two inmates have a dispute, they engage in a mediation session under staff supervision.[1] If mediation fails, repeated misbehavior or rule violations are punished with cell confinement or prison transference.[1][12]


A wall in the courtyard graffitied by Dolk

The prison was designed by the Danish group Erik Møller Architects and the Norwegian HLM Arkitektur AS,[13][14] selected in a competition held by the Department of Justice and the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property to determine the designers of the building.[1][15]

With a focus on rehabilitation, it was designed to simulate a village so that the prisoners can consider themselves part of society.[7] The government believes that "the smaller the difference between life inside and outside the prison, the easier the transition from prison to freedom."[7] Interiors are painted and designed to demarcate the differences between home, school, and the workplace.[16] In designing the prison's interiors, the architects tried to separate the internal buildings to have prisoners walking, to strengthen their bond with the outside world.[1] The hallways are tiled with Moroccan tiles or have large-scale photographs, such as daffodils or Parisian streets.[4]

Exteriors are composed of bricks, galvanized steel, and larch wood, instead of concrete.[7] The black and red kiln-fired bricks were inspired by the trees, mosses, and bedrock of the surroundings.[1] Natural life, including birch, blueberry, and pine trees, also contribute to rehabilitation.[1][12] The steel, a "hard" material, symbolizes detention, while the larch, a "soft" material, stands for rehabilitation and growth.[1] The yard walls and toilet doors are decorated by a graffiti painting by the Norwegian artist Dolk,[15] which was ordered by the prison from its 6 million kroner ($1 million/£640,000) art budget.[4][7]

All aspects of the prison's design aim to avoid psychological pressures, conflicts, and interpersonal friction.[1] Despite this, the prison wall was designed for security.[1] As the wall is visible everywhere, it was seen as a "symbol and an instrument" of "[the prisoners'] punishment, taking away their freedom", according to Gudrun Molden, one of its architects.[1]

Prison life[edit]

Each prison cell is 10 square metres (110 sq ft) and has a flat-screen television, desk, mini-fridge, toilet with shower, and unbarred vertical window that lets in more light.[3][4][12] Every 10–12 cells share a common area with a kitchen and a living room;[3][17] the kitchen has stainless steel silverware, porcelain plates, and a dining table, and the living room has a modular couch and a video game system.[1][17][18] While the prison provides food, the prisoners can also buy ingredients at its grocery shop and cook their own meals.[1][4] Inmates are locked in their cells twelve hours a day, but they are encouraged to maximize their time outside.[7][12] Prisoners have an incentive of 53 kroner ($9/£5.60) a day to leave their cells.[4][19] Are Høidal, the prison's governor, stated that the fewer activities the prisoners have, the more aggressive they become.[4] There is an "Activities House",[10] and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, there are practices on jogging trails and a football field, while wood working, cooking, and music classes are also offered.[3][7] At the mixing studio, the inmates may record music and a monthly program broadcast by the local radio station.[4] A library with books, magazines, CDs and DVDs; a gym with a rock-climbing wall; and a chapel are also available.[12][18][20] Prisoners even receive questionnaires asking how their prison experience can be improved.[3]

Inmates are allowed to receive their families, partners, or friends privately twice a week for two hours.[21] Individual rooms containing a sofa, sink, and cupboard with sheets, towels, and condoms are available for single-person visits.[21] For those with families, a larger room with toys and baby-changing facilities is available.[21] Inmates are checked after visits, and if illegal items are found, prisoners can lose their rights to private visits.[21] This right is denied to high risk criminals and visitors with histories of drug offenses.[21] There is also a separated, chalet-style house where prisoners can receive visits from family members and stay with them for 24 hours.[3][4][21] The house has a small kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room with a dining table, a sofa, and a television, as well as an outdoor play area with toys.[21] Foreigners are not allowed in and inmates have to complete a child-development education program to have 24-hour-long visits.[21] During visits, staff make regular checks on the prisoners and their families.[21]


As of 2012, Halden had 340 staff members, including teachers, healthcare workers, personal trainers, and guards (who also work as social workers due to their 2 year course that they have to take before becoming a guard).[4][22] The philosophy of "dynamic security", which encourages the staff and the inmates to develop interpersonal relationships, helps prevent potential aggression and guarantees safety.[1] Guards eat meals and play sports with the inmates, and are typically unarmed because guns can produce intimidation and social distance.[3] The interaction between prisoners and the staff is designed "to create a sense of family," according to architect Per Hojgaard Nielsen,[7] and because the staff can be role models to help the inmates to recreate their sense of daily routine, for application outside of prison walls once their sentence is over.[10] Half the guards are women, as Høidal thinks it minimizes aggression.[3] The guard stations were also designed to be tiny and cramped, to encourage officers to interact more with the inmates.[1]


Halden city's inhabitants view the prison as a chance to find employment rather than a bad thing.[7] Nina Margareta Høie of the web magazine The Nordic Page stated that the prison is "known for having the most humanly conditions in Europe,"[23] while William Lee James of Time and Amelia Gentleman from The Guardian called it the world's "most humane prison."[3][4] The BBC reported that the design of Scottish prison HMP Grampian was inspired by Halden.[24] Architect group Bryden Wood, which are the team responsible for the redesign of HMP Wellingborough, looked after Halden as they considered it one of "world-leading examples" of how a rehabilitation-focused prison should be.[25]

In 2010, Halden Prison was shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival Awards,[26] and its interior design earned the Arnstein Arneberg Award.[2][27] In 2014, as part of Wim Wenders' 3D documentary series Cathedrals of Culture, Michael Madsen directed a short film exploring how the prison's design and architecture influence the re-socialization process.[28][29] That same year, another film on Halden Prison was produced: The Norden, a television film produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, explored the reactions of James Conway, a former superintendent at New York's Attica Correctional Facility, during a prison tour.[30][31] Conway affirmed: "This is prison utopia. I don't think you can go any more liberal — other than giving the inmates the keys."[31] In his 2015 documentary Where to Invade Next, filmmaker Michael Moore presented Halden Prison as an example of how the USA should manage its prison system.[32]

However, the conservative, right-wing populist Progress Party has criticized Halden Prison.[7][11] When foreigners in Norwegian prisons increased from 8.6 percent in 2000 to 34.2 percent in 2014,[33] Per Sandberg, former deputy leader of the party, attributed this to "Halden's high standard", arguing that Halden's facilities should be reserved for Norwegian citizens.[7] The party also contended that Halden's quality of life is "better than in many nursing and retirement homes".[11] British Channel 5 broadcast a 45-minute documentary about Halden titled World's Most Luxurious Prison in November 2020.[b] It was presented by conservative politician Ann Widdecombe, who mostly criticized it and said a prison should not be like "normal life".[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The total capacity is contested; Statistics Norway and Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation say it is 248,[8][9] while government's official site states it is 251,[6] and Time and Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Well-being affirm it is 252.[3][10]
  2. ^ Channel 5's official website indicates the documentary was broadcast on November 3, 2020,[34] but secondary sources like Entertainment Daily and The Guardian reported it aired on November 12, 2020.[35][36]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Benko, Jessica (March 26, 2015). "The Radical Humaneness of Norway's Halden Prison". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on November 15, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Foss, Ole Christian (June 22, 2010). "Halden fengsel er årets bygg i Østfold". Moss Avis (in Norwegian). Mediehuset Østfold. Archived from the original on December 8, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Adams, William Lee (May 10, 2010). "Norway Builds the World's Most Humane Prison". Time. Time Inc. Archived from the original on September 3, 2014. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Gentleman, Amelia (May 18, 2012). "Inside Halden, the most humane prison in the world". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on June 6, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  5. ^ "Correctional Services - StatRes, 2011". Statistics Norway. October 30, 2012. Archived from the original on November 15, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Melding frå Kongen til Stortinget om Noregs rikes tilstand og styring i tida etter siste melding" (in Norwegian). October 2, 2010. Archived from the original on June 11, 2016. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Adams, William Lee (July 12, 2010). "Sentenced to Serving the Good Life in Norway". Time. Time Inc. Archived from the original on March 30, 2019. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  8. ^ "Imprisonments, 2010". Statistics Norway. March 8, 2012. Archived from the original on November 15, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  9. ^ Prang, Rainer (May 6, 2010). "Fengsel på stort lerret" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Primary Health & Prison Health Systems Expert Group - Second Meeting" (PDF). Northern Dimension Partnership in Public Health and Social Well-being. March 2011. p. 8. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c "Mehr Ferienanlage als Gefängnis". Tages-Anzeiger (in German). Tamedia. July 27, 2011. Archived from the original on September 1, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  12. ^ a b c d e Kofman, Jeffrey (May 31, 2015). "In Norway, A Prison Built On Second Chances". NPR. Archived from the original on May 15, 2016. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  13. ^ "Erik Møller Arkitekter: Home". Archived from the original on December 13, 2014. Retrieved December 9, 2014.
  14. ^ "Halden fengsel". HLM Arkitektur AS. Archived from the original on August 31, 2017. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Leung, Jennifer (August 13, 2014). "Halden Prison (Erik Møller Architects & HLM Architects)". Museum of Modern Art. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  16. ^ Pratt, John; Eriksson, Anna (2014). Contrasts in Punishment: An Explanation of Anglophone Excess and Nordic Exceptionalism. Routledge. p. 203. ISBN 978-1-136-21700-5.
  17. ^ a b Sterbenz, Christina; Engel, Pamela (March 19, 2016). "A Norwegian who killed 77 people is suing over prison conditions — these photos show how luxurious Norwegian prisons are". Business Insider. Business Insider Inc. Archived from the original on April 4, 2016. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  18. ^ a b O'Neill, Marnie (March 16, 2015). "Norway has the most luxurious — and humane — prisons in the world". News Corp Australia. Archived from the original on June 27, 2016. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  19. ^ "The jail where every prisoner gets a flat-screen TV and private shower". The Week. May 21, 2012. Archived from the original on May 11, 2016. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  20. ^ Masi, Alex (July 25, 2011). "The Super-Lux Super Max". Foreign Policy. Graham Holdings Company. p. 4. Archived from the original on June 20, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i Atkinson, Loraine (May 6, 2014). "Sex in Prison". Criminal Law & Justice Weekly. LexisNexis. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  22. ^ Masi, Alex (July 25, 2011). "The Super-Lux Super Max". Foreign Policy. Graham Holdings Company. p. 2. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  23. ^ Høie, Nina Margareta (February 6, 2014). "Sweden Cautious about Renting Prison Cells to Norway". The Nordic Page. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  24. ^ "HMP Grampian: Transforming Scotland's Hate Factory". BBC Two. November 16, 2014. Archived from the original on January 16, 2015. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
  25. ^ Wainwright, Oliver (September 2, 2019). "Epic jail: inside the UK's optimised 'super-prison' warehouses". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  26. ^ "World Architecture Festival awards - shortlists revealed". Architects' Journal. Metropolis. August 5, 2011. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  27. ^ "Designer jail: inside Norway's Halden prison - in pictures". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. May 18, 2012. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  28. ^ "Cathedrals of Culture: Halden Prison". Final Cut for Real. Archived from the original on December 8, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  29. ^ Dam, Freja (May 30, 2013). "Madsen and Redford make 3D documentary series". Danish Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  30. ^ Francis, Nathan (October 19, 2014). "A Look At Life Inside Norway's Halden Prison, Where There Are No Bars And Inmates Have Flat-Screen TVs Inside Their Cells". Inquisitr. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  31. ^ a b Sterbenz, Christina; Engel, Pamela (October 29, 2014). "Take A Tour Of Norway's Unbelievably Luxurious Prison". Business Insider. Business Insider Inc. Archived from the original on April 28, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  32. ^ "Michael Moore 'invades' Norway in latest film". The Local. April 15, 2016. Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  33. ^ "Norway's 'cushy' prisons spurring foreign cons". The Local. June 2, 2014. Archived from the original on August 10, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014.
  34. ^ "The Worlds Most Luxurious Prison - Episode 1". Channel 5. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  35. ^ a b Bell, Richard (November 13, 2020). "World's Most Luxurious Prison: Shocked viewers claim 'hotel-like' jail is 'better than outside world'". Entertainment Daily. Retrieved January 17, 2021.
  36. ^ Harrison. Phil; Jones, Ellen E; Seale, Jack; Davies, Hannah J; Howlett, Paul (November 12, 2020). "TV tonight: Tom Kerridge goes for a pint – to save Britain's pubs". The Guardian. Retrieved January 17, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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