Halden Prison

Coordinates: 59°8′25.703″N 11°17′11.55″E / 59.14047306°N 11.2865417°E / 59.14047306; 11.2865417
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Halden Prison
Interior of the prison
LocationHalden, Norway
Coordinates59°8′25.703″N 11°17′11.55″E / 59.14047306°N 11.2865417°E / 59.14047306; 11.2865417
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 third-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 both dangerous and 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. 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). Regjeringen.no. 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. Das im Frühling 2010 eröffnete Gefängnis nimmt Schwer- und Schwerstkriminelle
  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". ema.dk. 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.com.au. 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. 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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