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How a tour of a Norwegian jail might make you reconsider how effective the U.S. justice system is

The point here is not so much that one system is obviously better than the other, but that the way we run prisons in the U.S. is not the only way to do it.

How a tour of a Norwegian jail might make you reconsider how effective the U.S. justice system is

What comes to mind when you hear the word "jail?"

Probably "the opposite of freedom."


AMERICA: the home of some of the not-so-free. Image via Pixabay.

There's the overcrowding, crappy food, and the complete lack of privacy — all of which make one thing clear: Jail is not meant to be a picnic. It is a punishment for committing a crime after all.

In America, we're taught that it's meant to be anything but pleasant.

But is it the only — or even the best — way to do it?

A documentary series that follows a tour of a Norwegian prison shows a very different method of imprisonment.

This TV series, titled "The Norden," features an American named James Conway as he visits different prisons in Scandinavian countries. Conway, who spent nearly 40 years of his life working for New York's prison system, is particularly struck by the accommodations at Halden, a prison in Norway.

Me too, James, me too. GIF via "The Norden."

First of all, the prison's locale is gorgeous — it's surrounded by beautiful Norwegian scenery. The inside is breathtaking, too; the inmates have pristinely furnished living rooms, a laundry room, and — get this — a music studio. Conway really can't believe what he sees.

Why are things so "good" for these Norwegian inmates? It comes down to the system's values.

"One of the principles in the Norwegian Correctional Services regarding [is] normality, which means that you should serve in just as normal conditions as possible." — Jan Strømnes, deputy head of Halden prison

(This sounds better than normal to me, but maybe it's because I don't live in Norway and am currently dealing with a mouse infestation in my apartment).

Given his background working for the New York prison system, Conway was not convinced of Norway's approach to prison life.

"If you put that much faith in [the prisoners] and that much of a luxurious environment for them to live in, let them have the keys," he says.

"Why have them in prison, anyway?" Conway asks.

The Norwegian system focuses more on prison as a venue of rehabilitation rather than one of punishment.

And why Conway — and many Americans — might scoff at the concept of a comfortable prison (what's the deterrent if prison is so nice?), these fact-checked statistics from a segment of The Young Turks might make him reconsider:

  • Intentional homicides:
    • Norway: 0.6 per 100,000 people
    • United States: 6 per 100,000 people

  • Incarceration rates:
    • Norway: 71 for every 100,000 people
    • United States: 743 for every 100,000 (in 2009)

  • Recidivism rate:
    • Norway: 20%
    • United States: 50%-60%

Hard to believe, isn't it?

Perhaps Norway's way of doing things isn't as bizarre as we think.

You can watch the excerpt for yourself here:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less