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

ABA October 2017

Attorney Donald Specter hopes to import the best practices of European prisons to the United States.

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

Norway 2015

Check back for updated photo gallery.