Skip navigation

Articles by Doran Larson

What’s Justice Got to Do with It?

Visits to Icelandic Prisons Shine Light on America’s Complacency Toward the Suffering of Incarcerated People

After 40 years of an inter-partisan tougher-on-crime-than-you arms race, sentencing reform (and a desire to reduce prison costs) is one issue that now brings Republicans and Democrats together. No other advanced democracy has locked up its citizens at the rate and resulting breadth of brutalizing negligence that we commonly see in the United States. In this moment, essays and articles comparing ours with benign and truly rehabilitative Nordic prisons regularly pose the question, Why can’t Americans become more humane in dealing with people who have offended? But even the will to reduce prison populations and DOC budgets by shortening sentences, diverting people away from lockup, or supporting reentry doesn’t suggest a will to make life inside a whit less degrading. Current conditions make that obvious.

Northern European and U.S. prisons stand not only geographically but philosophically continents apart. After 13 years of teaching inside U.S. prisons, 11 years of collecting and archiving non-fiction essays by incarcerated people, and after walking through nearly identical hallways and laundry rooms, kitchens and work places inside 18 Swedish and Danish, Norwegian and Finnish prisons, I ...

American Apartheid: Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior

“Open” prisons, in which detainees are allowed to live like regular citizens, should be a model for the U.S.

by Doran Larson

It’s a postcard-perfect day on Suomenlinna Island, in Helsinki’s South Harbor. Warm for the first week of June, day trippers mix with Russian, Dutch and Chinese tourists sporting ...