A country like Norway prioritises inmates’ human rights, which boasts a low recidivism rate of 20%. Jails like Halden are considered the most humane prison in the world, and the Norwegian government spends a hefty amount to make it possible. This article focuses on factors like how the built environment of the Halden prison could encourage it to be the most compassionate.

Halden Prison is located in OStfold, southern Norway. In a high-security institution that was completed in 2010, 250 Norway criminals are housed as inmates. According to Norwegians, incarceration should only result in the loss of liberty; all other rights and privileges accorded to citizens should continue to apply to offenders. The Principle of Normality, which stipulates that life within prison should be as compared to life outside the prison as feasible, is used to carry out the body’s policies on rehabilitation and reintegration, which are considered to be the fundamental aims of jail. With these principles in mind, it was designed by Erik Miller Architects and HLM Architects as the result of an architectural competition organised by Statsbygg, the government body in charge of real estate, and the Norwegian Department of Justice.

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The majority of prisons in the world are consolidated in a contiguous structure consisting of layouts like the courtyard, radial, or telephone pole; Inmates may move about effectively because of its architecture, yet it is monotonous and full of unappealing elements like steel and concrete which block light. Additionally, minimum windows or outside view make it a confined space which often leads to conflict. However, Halden has a different approach. It has a campus layout with inmates moving between buildings, and a perimeter wall surrounds the facility. The building has large windows, which access the inmates to track the passage of time. Spending time outside or looking at days and seasons pass through windows helps reduce the problem of detachment from society, allowing them to connect to nature. The building materials are chosen to eliminate noise and maximise natural light, which also helps to design a humane environment. Glass applied to large windows allows access to the outside view. In contrast, cork and wood in interiors help to reduce and hold noise.

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The façade differs depending on the level of security, from untreated wood to red kiln-fired bricks. Colours and materials are repeated in the nearby rocks and plants. Natural resources such as tiles, bricks, untreated wood, and galvanised steel were used in building construction and exterior. The stunning trees like tall birch, pine tree dwarf, and sloping forest floor in the landscape contrast with the straightforward monolithic outlines, lending what the designer calls an anti-authoritarian feel to the campus.

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The interior has boasted amenities like workshops, game rooms, open kitchens, a sound studio, a library, a rock-climbing wall. Each prison cell is 10 square meters (110 square feet) in area; it includes a desk, mini-fridge, toilet with shower, flat-screen television, and unbarred vertical window for natural light. A graffiti painting by Norwegian artist Dolk adorns the yard walls and restroom doors. A kitchen and a living room are placed in the common area of every 10–12 cells; the kitchen has porcelain plates, stainless steel flatware, and a dining table, and the living room has a modular couch and a video game console.The design of the prison also encourages officers to interact with prisoners directly, which improves relationships and lowers security-related incidents. Guard rooms are designed to be small to incentive them to move out to connect with inmates.

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For two hours, inmates are permitted to visit quietly with their loved ones, partners, or friends twice a week. Private rooms with a couch, sink, and cabinet are provided for one-person visits. A larger area with toys and baby-changing facilities is available for individuals who have families. Prisoners can lose their privilege to private visits if prohibited goods are found during post-visit inspections. Additionally, there is a separate chalet-style residence where inmates may get 24-hour visits from family members. There are two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room with a dining table, a couch, a television, and an outdoor play area with toys in the house. It also has a tiny kitchen.

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Halden Prison has won praise for its compassionate surroundings and the Arnstein Arneberg Award for its interior design in 2010. Halden has demonstrated that violent squalor doesn’t have to be an inherent characteristic of incarceration by establishing a setting that prioritises the freedom of its inmates. Scandinavian jails are evidence that punishment does not necessarily need to be physical and overt to be effective since they are built to elicit regret and responsibility rather than bitterness and cynicism. Halden’s design aesthetic is pricey, which is why we usually see it used in regions with strong social support systems, like Scandinavia and Western Europe. However, the design is establishing new benchmarks for what future prisons might look like.


(2022). Halden Prison. En.Wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halden_Prison

Berger, R. (2016, December 10). Kriminalomsorgen: A Look at the World’s Most Humane Prison 

System in Norway. Https://Papers.Ssrn.com/Sol3/Papers.cfm?Abstract_id=2883512. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2883512

Samson, L. (2019, April 29). Can the architecture of a prison contribute to the rehabilitation of its inmates? Www.Designindaba.com. 


Vox. (2019, April 12). How Norway designed a more humane prison. YouTube. https://www.vox.com/videos/2019/4/12/18301911/norway-humane-prison


Saima is a young interior designer who loves to research, write, and design. She holds a master's degree in interior design and is a firm believer that words have the ability to alter the course of events and improve the quality of life.