Could Norway be an Alaskan model for prison reform?

Alaska is looking to Norway as a model for prison reform.

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The state is one of several that the California based non-profit Prison Law Office, is working with to improve conditions for prisoners.

During a Tuesday (May 9) press conference outside Fairbanks Correctional Center, Prison Law office Executive Director Donald Specter described Norway’s approach.

”In Norway, people who are incarcerated are seen as members of the community, so they’re not forgotten about when they come into a facility,” Specter said. “They’re immediate goal is to try to get them out in a productive way. Norwegian prison systems have a saying, that they want to produce a better neighbor.”

Specter said Norwegian prisons offer a more residential living arrangement, that allows inmates to prepare their own meals. A tour of the Fairbanks facility is a precursor to an upcoming Prison Law Office trip to view prisons in Norway, where Alaska Corrections Comissioner Dean Williams says a much lower rate of recidivism is fostered by a fundamentally different system.

”Better humane conditions and transition opportunities that look differently, and really normalizing prisons to look less like a prison and more like a rehabilitative location for people to get vocational training and education,” Williams said.

Williams says Alaska is already drawing on that philosophy, including at in Fairbanks, where despite a very old facility, superintendent Tammy Axleson said change is happening.

”We’re really trying to be respectful to the folks and treat them as the people that they are,” Axleson said. “There’s a lot of amazing people who find themselves making bad choices and coming in here. But they are our community members and our neighbors. So trying to make sure that people treat them that way. Expanding programs and asking the inmates what is is that they’re needing to be successful.”

Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot said that prison reform will save the state money. Mallot will join commissioner Williams, the Prison Law Offices Specter and State Senator Pete Kelly on the Norway trip, which is planned for September.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with the date of the press conference outside Fairbanks Correctional Center.