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December 1, 2022

Dignitary of Norwegian penitentiary system, interested in implementing ‘human ecology’ concept in Romania

An innovative concept called human ecology, implemented in Norway for the rehabilitation of prisoners could be implemented in Cluj by the governor of South Correctional Services from the country of fjords, Arne Kvernvik Nilsen.

Arne Kvernvik Nilsen is in Cluj-Napoca these days, where he held a conference on Thursday about his concept of human ecology within the event Human-Animal Interaction Day, held at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of UBB (Babes Bolyai University). Another purpose of his visit is to have meetings and discussions about the project he would like to run here. The idea behind this concept is to use nature, but also principles from a series of humanities and social sciences to turn prisoners from criminals and killers into responsible human beings, who once released, can cope with society, and not relapse or inspire fear.

Arne Kvernvik Nilsen tested his ideas in a project that has been running for about ten years in Bastoy, Norway, on an island with a prison, wherein prisoners don’t stay in cells, but in cottages, as in a camp, cook for themselves two meals a day, with dinner being served, work and live together as in a small village.

“By human ecology we understand how people interact among themselves but also with nature, the environment, they become part of something. There is only one place in Norway where we have introduced this concept, in Bastoy and there, the theory is not only to keep a prisoner who perpetrated a crime and is behind bars, but how he is treated by the prison warden, by the guards, whether the former is respected or not, how he is supported or, on the contrary, pushed to the ground. It is about inducing the idea that they are responsible for their own life, for their actions, but also to help them discover who they really are,” explained the governor.

The main idea of this concept of human ecology, Nilsen explained, is that if you treat people like animals they will become animals, and if you treat them as human beings, then they will behave as such.

Arne Nilsen Kvernvik collaborated with Romania at the implementation of a similar project in Grindu Tataru, in the Danube Delta, where a prison has been functioning since 2015 and which emulates a Bastoy Prison model. Romanian prisoners live here in wood, brick and reed houses, which they built themselves and can work outdoors, where they interact among themselves, and with different animals.

“In 2008 I was contacted by a representative of ANP (National Penitentiaries Administration) from Romania who invited me to develop the project from Tataru in the Danube Delta, funded through Norwegian grants, and adapted to Romanian realities. I strongly believe that Romania should not copy anything from Norway or from another country, but to learn from the others’ experience. It was the most exciting project I’ve been involved in the last 25 years, it has been full of challenges. I have met wonderful people in the prison system and in NGOs, people who believe in what they do, but it has been a political challenge in order for it to be carried on,” said Nilsen.

Asked what he thought about the prison system in Romania, Arne Kvernvik Nilsen said he has visited several prisons in his life and that he has seen worse things than he saw here, but he believes that Romania’s biggest challenge is related to the way it prepares the prisoner to return to society, who in Norway is supported upon release by a whole system of services that back him up to try to make a living in an honest way.

He also emphasized the idea that a crime is committed because something went wrong within society, because people do not commit crimes without reason or without a context.

“In Romania I have met people who stole because they did not have food. How we live our lives has consequences for us. It’s not just about the prison system itself, but about society,” Nilsen further said, according to Agerpres.

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