European Prison Project


 The Beginning

In May 2011, the Director of the Prison Law Office spent three weeks in Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands visiting adult and juvenile correctional facilities as part of a summer abroad program organized by the University of Maryland. He found that the contrast between the conditions in these facilities and those in the United States could not be more stark.

The most important difference is that prison operations in these countries are not designed to be harsh, and they are not a  substitute for community mental health programs. On the contrary, mentally ill offenders are not sentenced to prison, and the prisons are intended to reflect to the greatest extent possible normal life in the community. So, for example, not only do cells resemble college dormitory rooms but prisoners can make and eat their own meals in a kitchen. In Germany prisoners not only are paid a decent wage but must save a percentage so they have funds upon release. In Denmark some of the living units in the maximum security prison are co-ed, where married couples not only live together but care for their infants.

US v Norway

In the News - Project Results

“Tender Justice” North Dakota’s New Prison Practice Inspired During 2015 EPP Tour of Norwegian Prisons

Terry Pullins is on his second tour in the North Dakota prison system. He’s also done time in California. Since he never got farther than the fifth grade, the 40-year-old Pullins has spent nearly as much time behind bars as he did in school. But last December brought the most acute punishment he has ever suffered: Pullins lost his daughter in a car accident.

Most inmates in most prisons endure that sort of grief alone. But Pullins is at the Missouri River Correctional Center near Bismarck, N.D. This is a prison designed as much as possible to imitate life on the outside. The warden and staff rallied around him. “Every day I needed help,” Pullins says. “Those two weeks were rough, but they were there for me. I don’t always feel like I’m in prison. I feel like I’m somewhere bettering myself.”



Alaska Looks to Norway For Better Practices In Their Prisons 

KTOO – March 23, 2018,  A small group of Alaska corrections officers are spending more time getting to know inmates, with a goal of helping them reintegrate in society once they’re released. That’s one of several reforms Alaska officials are drawing from the example of Norway, in making changes to how prisons in the state operate.



A Number Of PLO’s EPP Participants Proudly Say  “I Did It Norway! ”

Since 2013, officials from at least a dozen states have toured prisons in Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands on official trips organized by the Prison Law Office and the Vera Institute of Justice. (We covered one such trip to Germany in 2015). Last month, Alaska and Oregon joined the list. The idea is to expose forward-thinking prison officials to places that embrace rehabilitation over punishment, coupling intensive counseling and education with an environment that mimics the world these men and women will rejoin at the end of their sentences. Throughout Western Europe, prisoners sleep in individual rooms with private bathrooms. They often wear their own clothes, cook their own food, and receive conjugal visits. They get paid enough in prison jobs so they have ample money to help them get set up when they leave.  Full Story



Bismark Tribune – October 14, 2017

In a Bismarck classroom last month, students learned the Pythagorean theorem.

They took notes and asked questions as their teacher explained how to calculate the hypotenuse of right triangle. It was fairly normal, except the students and teacher wore the same outfit — jeans and a white T-shirt — and none of them will be allowed to leave school property for several months or years.

The classroom is inside the North Dakota State Penitentiary. The man teaching that day is serving a 30-year sentence.

“He’s kind of been our fill-in for our math teacher temporarily,” said Rose Kreitinger, who oversees education at the penitentiary.

Education is a point of pride for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which last year was the national leader among all adult education centers, prisons or otherwise, for passing rate on the GED exam.

It goes toward a refrain heard from employees at all levels of the DOCR: 97 percent of prisoners are getting out, what condition do you want them in when they do?  Full Story

ABA Journal

October 2017, Attorney Donald Specter spent more than three decades working to protect the rights of incarcerated people before he finally saw a prison he believed in.

He was in Europe, having just won perhaps the biggest ruling of his career—a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata that required California to reduce its inmate population by more than 40,000. But Specter, executive director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, wasn’t there to celebrate. He was a co-instructor on a study-abroad trip about correctional practices with University of Maryland students.


Mother Jones -July/August Issue 2017     

Can Norway-Style Prisons work in America?  That’s what North Dakota is trying to figure out.





Alaska Public Media: Press Conference At Fairbanks Correctional Center With PLO Executive Director

 May 11, 2017 – 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.”  Full story

KTVF: Inside Fairbanks Correctional Center with PLO Exec. Director

May 9, 2017 The Fairbanks Correctional

Center will be seeing some changes in the near future.

The facility will be implementing different aspects of the Norwegian prison system.

Today, staff members were able to share the different programs they offer to inmates, and what changes have already been put in place.

Executive Director at Prison Law Office, Donald Specter, will be helping to fund these implementations. This includes a trip to Norway to see firsthand what living is like for prisoners. Full Story

USA Today Story – PLO’s “European Prison Project” Has Positive Impact In U.S. Facilities

March 31, 2017 – USA Today highlights the positive influence PLO sponsored “European Prison Project” has on participants.  States like North Dakota have already implemented a few Norwegian practices, as a result those facilities have seen a decrease in violence.

Idaho Prison Officials Agree, More Humane Prison Conditions are Necessary


November 25, 2016  – ABC news reports:  Idaho prison chief changes focus to model Norwegian prison practices after spending a week in Norway, courtesy of Prison Law Office.

The differences between “open prisons” in Norway and America’s traditional “closed” lockups couldn’t be starker.


Bismarck, N.D. The debate over what to do with convicted criminals has been going on for generations!

July 14, 2016 – Some say they should simply be locked away from society, while others say they need to be taught a better way to live.

North Dakota’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently changed its focus in dealing with some of the most violent inmates.

In October 2015, two officials from the state pen traveled to Oslo, Norway and observed a whole new way of treating prisoners and have adopted some of those methods. The results are encouraging.   Full Story


Overview of First Two Tours

Photo Gallery