Scandinavian Prison

Scandi Norms in a Pennsylvania Prison

Scandinavian Prison

Jordan Hyatt headshot

“The changes at Chester were conceived of and developed by the correctional officers…That makes this project unique.”
— Jordan Hyatt

Little Scandinavia may sound like the name of a shopping district, but it’s a new unit inside the State Corrections Institution at Chester featuring a communal kitchen and laundry room, planter boxes, an outdoor garden and individual cells that include mini-fridges.

Importantly, it has something else unusual in an American prison: a high ratio of specially trained staff to incarcerated people, which allows for very different relationships between them.

Jordan M. Hyatt, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Justice Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Public Policy, coordinated the effort to introduce this approach to corrections in a Pennsylvania prison.

In partnership with Kriminalomsorgen, the Norwegian Prison Service, Hyatt and colleague Synøve N. Andersen of the University of Oslo led a delegation of Pennsylvania corrections officials on an experiential learning program in prisons in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. After several weeks at a facility in Norway in 2019, the group prepared to apply some of the approaches they had encountered there at SCI Chester. In 2022, the full team returned to spend a week in a similar excursion in Sweden and collaborated with officers and leaders from Kriminalvården, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service.

The pandemic caused a two-year delay, but the brightly lit and comfortably furnished unit opened with a ceremony in May 2022.

Inmates order groceries from the community store, prepare their own food in the communal kitchen and sometimes share meals with corrections officers. Conversations about career goals and plans for returning to the community are part of the program.

Hyatt and his colleagues will conduct ongoing research to measure outcomes, including effects on prison climate and community reintegration.

The goal is to support well-being for inmates and staff, prepare incarcerated individuals to reenter society and reduce recidivism. If Little Scandinavia succeeds, it could inspire broader reforms in prisons across the commonwealth.

Renovations transformed the prison unit at SCI Chester into a livable space with a sense of community modeled after Scandinavian prisons. The unit was designed to create a more humane environment for incarcerated people and staff.