What is the point of sending someone to prison – retribution or rehabilitation? Twenty years ago, Norway moved away from a punitive “lock-up” approach and sharply cut reoffending rates. The BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby went to see the system in action, and to meet prison officers trained to serve as mentors and role models for prisoners.
“OK, and now put your big toes together and put your bum behind you!” calls the enthusiastic yoga instructor in English to the 20 or so participants who are shuffling into child’s pose on rubber mats spread out on the grass in the faint early morning sunshine.
“Can you feel the stretch?” she gently asks a heavily tattooed man as she settles his ruffled T-shirt and smoothes his wide back with her hand. “It’s OK, yeah?”
It could be a yoga class at any holistic health retreat anywhere in the world but the participants here at Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison are rather far removed from the usual yummy mummy spa clientele. Barefoot murderers, rapists and drug smugglers practise downward-facing dog and the lotus position alongside their prison officers, each participant fully concentrating on the clear instructions from the teacher.
“It calms them,” says prison governor Are Hoidal approvingly, as we watch from the sidelines. “We don’t want anger and violence in this place. We want calm and peaceful inmates.”
Tranquillity does not come cheaply. A place at Halden Prison costs about £98,000 per year. The average annual cost of a prison place in England in Wales is now about £40,000, or £59,000 in a Category A prison.
A uniformed prison officer on a silver micro-scooter greets us cheerily as he wheels past. Two prisoners jogging dutifully by his side, keep pace.
Hoidal laughs at my nonplussed face.
“It’s called dynamic security!” he grins. “Guards and prisoners are together in activities all the time. They eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them.”
Something we Sri Lankans should look at, as we keep deliberating on imposing of the death penalty.