You’re probably wondering what in the world I’m doing over 5,000 miles away from home in Norway…
During this trip—my first ever to Europe—I am part of a group of criminal justice reform activists who are exploring prisons in Norway. As I will share with you, they offer a dramatic contrast to carceral institutions here in the U.S.
On Monday, we visited Halden Prison, the world's most humane and modern high-security prison that houses no more than 228 of Norway’s citizens.
Within the facility there are trees and open spaces. The libraries include books, DVD’s, and CD’s. Each cell has only one occupant.
While the country of Norway has 40 prisons, its actual prison population is under 4,000. The 40 prisons are intentionally spread throughout the country so that incarcerated people can be near their families.
In Norway, the maximum sentence a person can receive is 21 years. While there is a mechanism in place that will allow prison officials to keep a person in prison beyond the 20 years, Norway does not have the death penalty.
People incarcerated in Halden are sentenced to detention, but they are not deprived of their rights as citizens in relations to education, health, work, religion, or social services.
In fact, they even retain their right to vote.
As you know, this is in stark contrast to how it happens in America – the land of the free – where we are advocating for ACA 6 just so that people on parole can have the right to vote.
Unlike the “justice” system in America, Norwegians recognize that a person’s right to vote is fundamental, inalienable, and part of healthy and normal citizenship.
In fact, in Norway, prisons operate under what’s called The Principle of “Normality.” This means that the detention is the punishment, and it should not be any more burdensome than is necessary on the grounds of security.
Under “Normality,” incarcerated people should not be subject to supplementary punishments by being deprived of benefits such as opportunities for social contact through visits, furloughs and telephone contact, and being permitted to follow developments in society through mass media.
Employees in the correctional and administrative collaborative agencies are expected to be role models of good behavior and should provide feedback in a way that corresponds with what incarcerated people will encounter in the community. Halden Prison is known as the world's most humane maximum security prison.
Witnessing this is a solemn reminder that we are overdue for a system overhaul. Let’s reimagine a society that treats all people with the dignity, respect, and care that they deserve – so that confinement rehabilitates and prepares men and women to come back home.
I look forward to keeping you informed as my trip continues throughout the rest of the week and to returning to California with a road map for reforming our prison system.
Thank you for being with me—and with ARC—on this journey.
I grew up in South Central Los Angeles during the height of the gang and crack crisis. At that time, Los Angeles was called "The gang capital of the nation", and I was then a part of the problem. I was a gang member and a crack dealer. By the time I was 17 I had been shot twice, stabbed once, and my mothers house had been shot up by rival gang members. By the age of 18 I was in state prison sentenced to life. On July 12, 2012, after 24 years of incarceration and a court ruling in my favor, I was granted parole.