Museum of 21st Century Design
Bastøy Prison Island
Image credit: Bastøy Prison Island.
National and local legislation, educational and psychiatric resources, and architecture and space
People on the island receive $10 USD per day for their work along with a budget for food
Enclosed location for dwelling and education
Applicable to men within the Norwegian justice system
Ongoing research into the impact of Bastøy Prison Island on social hierarchies.
Ongoing research into the impact of the buildings and activities on the land
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Prisons Fail to Reform and Deter
The latest World Prison Population List, published in December 2021, reports that there may be more than 11.5 million prisoners worldwide. A systematic review of criminal recidivism rates shows that prisons and the fear of returning to prison does not stop crime. Across the 50 countries with the highest incarceration rates, between 14% and 45% of formerly incarcerated people return to prison. While prisons across the globe fail to accomplish the goal of decreasing criminality, many continue to place their inhabitants in situations that endanger their lives and trash their human rights. From solitary confinement to rampant diseases to slave labor, prison systems in North America and Europe have track records of terror.
Norway wants to reimagine what happens to people after they commit violent crimes. In this country of 5.408 million people, the incarcerated population equals 0.00054% (54 people for every 100,000) — a rather small number compared to other countries in Europe and North America.
Even still, the government is working to further decrease the number through unconventional measures that focus on healing rather than harming.
A Prison that Decreases the Need for Prisons through Society-Focused Landscape and Architecture
Bastøy Prison Island is home to dozens of men who are learning to take responsibility for their lives via farming, swimming, education, and communal living. They live in private bedrooms in colorful wooden bungalows that each house six men. The island also includes a library, school, working farm, and beaches. Many of these men will live on the island for 21 years — the maximum sentence in Norway — for crimes including murder and rape. A reporter for the Guardian reports, “Despite the seriousness of their crimes, however, I found that the loss of liberty was all the punishment they suffered.”
More than Spacial Design
Space is not the only aspect of this prison that has been redesigned.
Food from the island prison is particularly different from other prisons in Norway. Rather than a conventional canteen, the men prepare half of their own meals. Residents earn about $10 USD per day for their work and receive an allowance to purchase provisions at the island’s small market. Some residents receive vacation days with access to mainland Norway.
The relationship between guards and residents is also markedly different. There are about 70 prison guards who wear uniforms but often sit with residents for a cup of coffee. They train for at least three years, as much of their work involves a deep understanding of the challenges that caused residents to commit the crimes they did.
Teachers, psychologists, and other social workers spend time on the island to support the residents’ return to normal life. And, when people return to normal life, they almost never return to prison. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates across the globe with 20%, defined by reimprisonment within 10 years of release. Salve Regina University reported that the US recidivism rate reached 52% in 2014.
M21D + the Norwegian Prison System
M21D will follow the development of Bastøy Prison Island and other institutions that follow its lead. Removing the human abuses of conventional prisons and the stunning rates of success suggests Bastøy Prison Island is a key design for the future of a healthy society.
“A systematic review of criminal recidivism rates worldwide: 3-year update,” Wellcome Open Res
“Norway,” World Prison Brief
“Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad,” Salve Regina University
“World Prison Brief,” Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research
“The Norwegian prison where inmates are treated like people,” The Guardian
“What are prisons in Norway really like?,” The Guardian