Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons season 3 finale recap: Norway: The Perfect Prison?


In the season 3 finale of Netflix’ Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, Raphael Rowe looks at Norway’s Halden prison, a humane prison.

The Netflix series Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons has shown plenty of tough aspects of prison life. There’s a sense that host Raphael Rowe avoids trouble simply because he is an ex-prisoner himself. However, the season 3 finale has a special twist: It looks at Norway’s Halden prison, considered the most humane in the world. Although it’s maximum security, you wouldn’t know that from its lack of barred windows.

Built in 2010, about 15 miles from the border with Sweden, their re-offending rate is said to be the lowest in the world. The focus at Halden is overwhelmingly on rehabilitation, and Norway’s maximum sentence for criminals is only 21 years (though one wonders if there’s ever wiggle room on that)!

When Rowe enters the prison, he gets a handshake from a guard, for the first time ever.  In the previous episode of Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, guards sometimes seemed more intimidating than inmates.  Raphael’s also told that, at Halden, the object is not to punish prisoners.

After a drug test and psychological assessment, he is shown the cells, which comes equipped with a TV and a fridge. Rowe notes that the cell is better than some hotels he’s stayed in. While this would outrage many, the intent seems to involve relaxing, as opposed to getting on a prisoner’s nerves. Put that way, doesn’t it sort of make sense?

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The prison’s skeptics also include inmates. One man, Robin, stabbed a friend in the neck while on drugs and alcohol. He has scars on his arms, indicating a sort of self-hatred. Reflecting that reality, he is hesitant to engage with the system for rehabilitation. Still, it seems most inmates at Halden come around.

Day 2

A prison guard named Amund says the prisoners don’t behave violently to the guards, and vice versa. In fact, while most of the world’s prison officers don’t sit casually with inmates, these ones do. They interact, and usually in a positive way. The result is sort of an Oprah-esque vibe. The guards are not there to antagonize but to assist as needed. There are 350 staff members for 250 prisoners.

We meet an inmate named Richard, extradited from a Swedish maximum security prison.
Richard was shocked at the difference upon arrival. Another guard, Maria, says it’s important to treat prisoners with respect. She calls it the “normality principle,” that if you
treat people like animals, you get animals. However, treat them with respect and they might not re-offend. Although Richard was sentenced for murder, both he and the prison feel that one action doesn’t have to define you as a human being — even if it was reprehensible.

It’s still a prison

The inmates have routines. Every day they cook, clean, study and work. Theo, from Holland, has been in for 2 years, for smuggling 200 kilos of hashish. He also says he was a “football hooligan.” He emphasizes that, ultimately, he’s still in prison, and that he mentally regards it as punishment. The main difference is, it’s not particularly cruel and unusual punishment. Another prisoner, Emari, moved to Norway to play pro basketball. Though he doesn’t want to discuss his being sentenced for rape, he also emphasizes that he’s still in prison.

Still, not every prison has a little supermarket like Halden does. There everyone uses a card, paid for by their prison work. To inmate Ashley’s knowledge, no one steals anything. In other words, Halden is sort of impressive in its discipline. The place is about structure and routine, with the message being: Conform or be confined. While Raphel Rowe has seen horrible prison workshops, Halden’s workshop has a real garage, and prisoners can learn carpentry, printing and engineering. There’s also a band room, for playing instruments.

Another inmate, Christian, had previously stolen to support his drug habit. He is to be released in six days, and feels prison is helping him change. The aforementioned Richard killed a rival drug dealer. Though he says the murder was an accident, he had buried the body, making it a missing person case. Will he return to a life of crime or be another Halden success?

Getting tough

Probably to address detractors, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons examines how effective Halden’s prison guards can be. As they don riot gear, Rowe acts as a volatile prisoner. Interestingly, Halden’s guards use a system of “underground” tunnels to access cells. Rowe assures us that he
wouldn’t wish cell extraction on his worst enemy. Indeed, although some people would consider the prison ultra-soft, the security isn’t as lax as it might first appear. In fact, the blending of the relaxed and humane environment with riot gear and hidden tunnels actually carries a slight dystopian vibe. Of course, this is only supposed to be a last resort.


Halden’s governor, Are Høidal, tells Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons that the inmates should be punished, but the punishment should work. They should be able to lead lives as normal as possible. It appears to work, too. The recidivism rate used to be 70%, but now it’s between 20-30%!  One needn’t be a math wizard to see the difference there.

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It seems to have been a positive net gain for Christian. He says he now has tools to help him, and that improvement is up to him now. Raphael Rowe says it’s the cleanest, most visionary prison he’s seen. The focus is 100% on rehabilitation, and to make inmates the neighbors you’d want to live next to.  Many will still be skeptical, but they should be fair and concede that Halden has something going for it.  It’s a prison that tries.

What are your thoughts on Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons? Let us know in the comments!