Breaking the Cycle (of Imprisonment)

Breaking the Cycle (of Imprisonment)

This is a film made by Finnish TV in 2017 about the different approaches to imprisonment in Norway and the US, and also the different results they produce.

The main figure is Jan Stromnes, a deputy warden at the maximum security Halden prison in Norway, where the emphasis in all aspects is on how to reeducate and rehabilitate prisoners, so that once they are released they can be useful and productive members of society.

We first see what life is like at Halden, and how the staff and prisoners interact, what the prisoners lives are like, and how they are treated, looking at everything from respect to food. The emphasis is on treating the prisoners humanely, so when they return to society they are able to reintegrate.

We then follow Stromnes as he visits two institutions in the States. The first is the notorious Attica Correctional Facility in New York State. Of course here the prisoners’ experience can be very difficult, and there are definite levels of violence that may be experienced from staff and fellow inmates.

There is a very interesting segment filmed here, where some of the prisoners are asked – and without being given any guidance – to outline what they would see as the ideal prison. They brainstorm and come up with some very intelligent ideas, and draw them up on a whiteboard and discuss them. It is then shown that with minimal differences what they have described is Halden.

The second prison in the States they visit is the North Dakota State Penitentiary, whose leaders have visited Halden, and learned from the example they saw there, and changed their own practices accordingly, and we find out how that is working out.

This is a thoughtful film about imprisonment, and it is clear that there are no easy solutions, but it is surely better to change inmates for the better so that the people going back to society have some chance of being better persons, and do not end up in the old cycle of criminal behaviour leading once again to imprisonment.


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