North Dakota Nudges Prisons Toward Norwegian Model

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Mother Jones explores an initiative to nudge North Dakota’s traditional American incarceration protocols toward the progressive Scandinavian model. The idea was hatched in 2015 when the state’s prisons chief, Leann Bertsch, toured Halden, the Norwegian maximum-security facility that Time has dubbed “the world’s most humane prison.” Halden, situated in a remote forest, is surrounded by a single wall. It has no barbed wire, guard towers, or electric fences. Prisoners stay in private rooms with en suite bathrooms and can cook for themselves in well-equipped kitchens. Guards and inmates mingle freely, eating and playing games and sports together. Violence is rare and assaults on guards are unheard of. Solitary confinement is almost never used.

Bertsch says she had an epiphany about North Dakota’s prison system after visiting Halden. “We’re hurting people,” she said. “It was definitely one of those moments where you’re rethinking everything. I had always thought that we run a good system. We’re decent. We don’t abuse people. We run safe facilities with good programs. It was just like, ‘How did we think it was okay to put human beings in cagelike settings?’” Bertsch, described as “no pushover” and “ballsy,” returned home with a radical new goal: “to implement our humanity.”

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