Rethinking Incarceration

Rethinking Incarceration

What do little girls dream of? Four-year-old Emma Nolan dreamed of becoming a sharp-shooter in the CIA.

Not much seems to have changed for the senior criminology and justice studies major, who recently interviewed Norwegian prison officials for research inspired by an intensive course abroad in Norway and Sweden. The 11-day course, led by criminology prof Jordan Hyatt, JD, PhD provided a cross-cultural exploration of criminal justice systems, culminating in a tour of maximum-security prison Halden Fengsel.

Nolan approached Hyatt after the trip about conducting further research at Halden, and spent the next two months developing a proposal to uncover why the criminal justice world has taken notice of Norway’s second largest prison.

Dubbed “the world’s most humane prison” by TIME magazine, Halden is internationally recognized for its innovative reform techniques and award-winning facilities. The institution’s guiding principle is to treat inmates as you would your neighbors because one day, they just might be.

“Emma was able to conduct international field research in a very challenging environment,” says Hyatt, who helped Nolan design the research protocol and accompanied her return to Norway. “Her work exceeded our expectations.”

Nolan conducted 14 interviews over two days and says the officials “rolled out the red carpet” in an effort to bring the public into the institution. From security guards to the warden, employees spoke of the “neighborly” attitude at the core of their policies.

The differences between the correctional systems in the U.S. and Norway are stark: The U.S. incarcerates at almost nine times the rate of Norway, and yet Halden spends annually about three times more per inmate than the average U.S. prison.

While Nolan and Hyatt say that direct transplantation of Halden’s policies into the U.S. system would not work, they do believe the U.S. could take elements of its approach.

“Emma’s work could inform conversations about how inmates and staff could interact in other, less-innovative facilities,” Hyatt says. “Her project underscores the basic philosophical differences between the Norwegian and American correctional systems.”

Nolan and Hyatt played an integral role in bringing Are Høidal, Halden’s warden, to the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology this fall, where they presented their research along with their co-researcher Synøve Andersen, PhD, of Statistics Norway.

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