I am sitting in a sunny Copenhagen suburb preparing for my onward trip to Norway this evening. Over the next ten days I have a busy schedule visiting different prisons across Norway and looking at their use of technology and the arts. ‘Stretch Digital’ has been unfolding in the UK over the last 6 months and we are finally getting up to full capacity and thinking about embedding our learning. We had a great write up with the Prisoners Education Trust this month. There have been a few issues with the projects in English prisons and in the community – every prison seems to have such different rules and security issues. What is considered okay in HMP Peterborough is not okay in HMP Bronzefield, which is confusing for my staff. I have learnt a lot about trying offer the right kind of support to the team, who bring their own creativity and vulnerabilities to a sensitive process. I have realised that I took a lot of my own knowledge for granted, things I was doing for years in prisons and my methods that don’t always come naturally to other people – we are all learning.
The Norwegian prison service have been very helpful, I have a packed itinerary. My first few days are in Bergen prison, which is the only prison with male and female inmates on the same site – I like that – I work in HMP Peterborough which is the same. I also worked at the AMC in Canberra which was the only one in Australia. Even though they do not mix at all I am convinced mixed prisons have different feel to them. A few nights ago the Director of Peterborough attended an art opening of Stretch Artist in Residence Kay Goodridge and we were chatting, he told me that HMP Peterborough was the ‘showpiece’ prison and used in the wider Sodexo estate as a case study of how to do things – I am so pleased that Stretch have such a presence there ( He also said that art had been re-introduced to the curriculum for well- being, I almost fell over, the women are even getting their own dedicated art teacher that they have not had before).
In my planning for the trip away I was told that I could not bring my usual equipment into the prison in Bergen for the workshops. I was surprised as 4 years ago I travelled to Norway and delivered a few workshops with a local museum and prison up in Molde, I thought they knew what I was all about. Once again I realised that even in Norway we are at the mercy of individual prison directors. In the UK and Australia and in Norway now I find each prison so different, it really is an exploration. With further explanation they said I could bring the equipment – so I have packed up my digital story kit bag. One prison I am visiting has internet access, one prison I have to bring everything in on a memory stick – other prisons memory sticks are banned. What is the reasoning behind these security decisions I wonder? Upon my return I will be looking to gather all my thoughts and information about the use of this equipment for well-being and perhaps make some recommendations. I honestly think the ‘danger’ of connectivity is ill-perceived, to keep up with the times and not leave prisons and prisoners in the dark ages prisons need to look at using all available tools and technology.
I sometimes give a little talk or rant about prison reform and I hail Norway as the ‘mecca of criminal justice’ – where reoffending rates are at 9% to our 60%, where rehabilitation runs though their systems’ core. In Norway working in a prison is a high status job, the guards are trained to degree level as mentors, teachers and therapists – Sodexo take 8 weeks to train their guards. When I worked in Norway 4 years ago it was fascinating. How amazing that the prisoners even knew enough English to work with me! What was soon apparent was how similar prisoners are everywhere, from Australia to Scotland to Norway, often the same problems that lead to prison; poverty, abuse, drugs and plain old curiosity. I hope Norway lives up to its reputation – inspires and energises me – bring it on.