U.S. Vs. Norway: a Wonderland for Inmates

In this paper I will discuss the impact mental health and treatment of prisoners has had on mass incarceration in the United States and how it has been dealt with in Norway. Mass incarceration, in short, is the process of imprisoning a large part of the population in jails and federal and state prisons. The U.S. right now has about 25% of the worlds prison population. This is a lot when you think about it, especially considering that on a global scale the U.S .only makes up about 5% of the population. This means there are 2.3 million people sitting behind bars; men, women, and juveniles alike (American Civil Liberties Union).

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Mass incarceration in the United States started around the time of President Richard Nixon. The War on Drugs was a way to get everyone who they believed to be a criminal behind bars, and some that werent. Nixon’s party believed that if they enforced harsher drug laws then they can deter people from crime and engaging in criminal activity. Through Nixons reign as president the number of those incarcerated had doubled (Cullen,2018).

Its important to understand the impact mass incarceration has had on inmates, and how its affected the mental health of individuals. There are various types of mental illness. Its defined as a change in behavior, emotion, or thinking. Mental illnesses are commonly associated with distress or not being able to function in social settings (American Psychiatric Association, 2018). In the U.S., mental illness is a serious problem within the prison system. Many facilities in the country that help those with mental illness have ultimately shut down, which has led to an increase intake of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons. The prison systems in the US are overpopulated as it is. Adding mentally ill persons to overcrowded jails and prisons is a recipe for disaster. Research has shown that there isnt an adequate number of trained professionals who can deal with the mentally ill in the prison system. The few professionals who do treat mentally ill individuals in a prison setting often find it to be difficult. It is difficult because their client(s) are still prisoners. There are underlying issues of control of a prisoner (A person who is viewed as someone who has done something wrong to be imprisoned) and a client who needs mental health services in order to get better.

In the U.S prison system those with mental illness arent treated properly. In the prison system many prisoners go through harsh punishments. For example, excessive solitary confinement is used as a punishment in the United States. Solitary confinement is when a person is isolating the cell for 20 to 24 hours a day. Prisoners who are confined or treated worse than those in general population. They are given scraps of food and only shower twice a week if the guard allows it. (Nation, 2017). Those in solitary lose all privileges. They arent able to participate in general population activities or receive phone calls or visits. Solitary confinement has been used on men, women and juveniles alike. Recently solitary confinement for juveniles has been banned (Nation, 2017). Solitary when used excessively can be seen as cruel and unusual punishment which its use for juveniles was banned. The excessive use of solitary confinement can cause a sane person to develop mental illness (FUSION, 2015).

Norway however, has an increased number of mental health professionals and funding. It offers accessible mental health care to children as well as adults. In Norway there is training provided to professionals to treat anxiety and depression. These disorders are very common and by treating them early Norways is able to eliminate issues such as absence from work, disability and unemployment. The benefits from this training ultimately outweigh the cost (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy, 2018).

Norway has a total of 46 adult prisons. At the time they did not imprison juveniles. They have both open and closed prisons. The prisons in Norway have many social workers and sports and recreation advisers. Prisoners are able to receive free postage to be able to communicate with their families and friends as well as, dictionaries to help bridge any language barriers. They have the means to send prisoners to treatment centers as needed. The prisoners have access to things like cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling. (Richards, E. 2017, June 27). The guards have the ability to reward those who are imprisoned for drug offenses. If their test comes back clean with no drugs the guards are able to get them more privileges.

Norways open prisons are more like rehabilitation centers. One of Norways most iconic open prisons is Bastoy. The island is virtually run by the prisoners who are going to be returning to society. The prisoners are responsible for the upkeep of the island. This island serves as a way to train those who were imprisoned to get back a normal life. On the island prisoners are able to get an education and receive vocational courses. They have the ability to harness their skills and use them. They arent treated like animals, the ratio of guards to prisoner is very low. There are only four guards to one hundred and fifteen prisoners. There arent even any weapons like guns on this island. Prisoners are actually treated like human beings and are better for it.

Norways prison system is very different from the United States prison system. Norways open-prison system allows them in some cases to be able to vote. Politicians often even the prison and deliver speeches. Norway allows its prisoners to become rehabilitated citizens and help them receive housing and jobs before they come out. The United States it is much different. Prisoners arent treated well and there are recordings of guards hurting inmates. There are also lawsuits being pressed against officers for misconduct. Prisoners in the United States are treated like caged animals and arent given a chance. Prisons in the U.S arent able to treat the amount of patients that suffer from mental illness. There arent many professionals trained to help all of them. It is hard for one person to treat hundreds, or thousands even. The prison systems here dont provide all the adequate resources that Norway does to allow our prisoners to become rehabilitated citizens.

The united states could stand to learn a lot from Norway. If even a fraction of Norways humanity and treatment of prisoners was present in the United States prison system, it would have a better outcome. When you treat someone like a person regardless of their crime you are instilling good faith into them. Norway has open prisons with a bare minimum level of security, yet no one tries to escape. The prisoners and guards alike have a mutual understanding that they are going to receive actual help that will assist them in their journey to become good neighbors. The prison systems in the U.S. can benefit from more mental health professionals and extensive training for all of those who are dealing with inmates. More programs for the inmates would be helpful as well, prior to release. The U.S. has this twisted mindset that caging a person for so long then releasing them will have no side effects or backfire. If the United States took a page out of Norways book and invested in making its citizens better, then maybe wed be able to have a 20% recidivism rate too, instead of a 76% one (Zoukis, 2017).


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U.S. vs. Norway: A Wonderland for Inmates. (2019, Apr 29). Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from

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