"Our prisons are euphemistically called “correctional institutions,” but offender rehabilitation is only a very small portion of what they exist to accomplish. Tough-on-crime policy diverts money away from corrective programming and pushes for tighter security over an increasingly large population of inmates who are more likely to lash out against the system than to succumb to remorse. American prisons are punitive, no doubt; but the punishment is rarely redemptive. I encountered many broken spirits during my brief season behind bars who had finally accepted the awful truth of their situation: as far as the state was concerned, their job was to be miserable and compliant. Nothing else mattered.

Scandinavian inmates experience their punishment differently. Precisely because they’re treated with such dignity, they have no place to direct their resentment except back upon themselves. And when this self-reflection leads to genuine remorse, the system is there to cooperate.