(Nordic countries: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway). Nordic prisons regularly pose the question, ‘why can’t Americans be more humane in dealing with the incarcerated?’. US prisons are walled camps under military-like occupation. Nordic prisons are supervised communities.
An American reporter described his visit to Little Lava prison in Iceland. ” It was a gray day in Iceland, and Officer Birgisson asked if we would like to see the mess hall. We were surprised to see staff and inmates eating together. Next was a shop where men built picnic benches or washed cars of the surrounding citizens.
This is an open prison without adjoining fences, in lush pastures, where we raise a flock of chickens. Officer Birgisson addresses men, who are wearing their own clothing, by their first names. We walk past decently appointed rooms featuring TVs, cellphones, and sound systems. While maintaining order, Birgisson is a professional respected by both the public and his wards.
Inside the surveillance center, two officers look at security screens. One swivels toward us, laughs and points to a caricature of Donald Trump taped to the wall. From this perch, we see the whole of the prison grounds…..pastures, gardens, and grazing horses that the men take care of. I ask “what about escape?”. Birgisson says, “they don’t try often’ but when they do, we talk and ask what made them leave.”. We offer a pained laugh. Birgisson asks “what’s funny?”. Nordic prisons are simply not what Americans can understand. We asked what incarcerated Icelanders earn inside. Birgisson replies, “the same as the outside, of course.”
Sheer scale is the first factor that separates American and Nordic prisons. Rikers Island held over three times the prison population of Sweden. All incarcerated Danes would fit in San Quentin. The state of Kansas confines more people than ALL 5 NORDIC COUNTRIES COMBINED.
Police and prison officers are much better educated than in America. Judges are not elected so they don’t make decisions to please the voting public. A Nordic prosecutor is more like a social worker, they try to determine what is in the best interests of all concerned. I think Officer Birgisson summed it up, “Why do Americans equate pain with justice?”