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Missouri DOC Models Re-entry Program on Norwegian Prisons

Dressed in maroon shirts—not prison jumpsuits—three prisoners joined the “Dynamo” program at Missouri’s Northeast Correctional Center in November 2023. That brought total enrollment to 17 since the state Department of Correction (DOC) launched the initiative in April 2023, modeling it after Norwegian prison efforts to focus on re-entry, rather than punishment.

For Dynamo prisoners, that means keeping keys to their housing unit and exercise yard, with no restrictions on its use except to maintain the grass. Moving freely to their prison jobs or the library—even the canteen—they also share use of a dayroom furnished with a sofa, TV, laundry and refrigerator, plus plants and an aquarium. The men are responsible for maintaining their own cells, whose bright colors enliven a corner of the sprawling gray prison. Warden Clay Stanton says, “In a sense, they run it.”

“We took them out of a structured environment and put them in a responsible environment,” he explained. “They are now responsible for all aspects of upkeep of the place.”

Importantly, he reported no fights, drugs, overdoses or rules violations, things that are also rare in Norway’s prisons. As Columbia University law and doctoral student Alia Hahra noted, “That is so not how American prisons are structured”—not least because the U.S. prison system “is more of a catch-all for a lot of social safety-net failures” that the Norwegian government doesn’t tolerate.

“Living in prison shouldn’t be the punishment,” said former DOC Director Anne Precythe, who stepped down in December 2023. “Their civil liberties have been stripped, but we still have a responsibility to allow them to live a life. Ninety-five percent of these people are coming home to our communities. If we haven’t prepared them for what that looks like, they will not be successful.”

Dynamo participants are older than 50, reflecting a prerequisite 15 consecutive years of incarceration. They must also have no program failures in the last five years, no assaults on staff and they must complete 15 hours annually in restorative justice classes. There are 33 remaining slots open, for which Stanton has received 300 applications from DOC’s 23,700 prisoners. A similar program has begun at Algoa Correctional Center, too. Missouri Prison Reform founder Lori Curry said, “[W]e hope they expand this and learn from it, learn that people change and are more than mistakes.”


Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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