Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

  • the prison administration
  • the police or gendarmerie

Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


Closed facilities have different levels of security. Prisoners in secure detention (forvaring) are placed in very high security cells in the special units. The units housing remand prisoners are equipped with reinforced security features. Detox units, however, have less security measures.

Special cells, known as “security cells”, are intended for prisoners whose behaviour is considered particularly aggressive. The prison governor determines when this type of temporary placement is necessary. Prisoners considered dangerous to themselves are subject to hourly surveillance rounds. The governor reports placement in this type of cell to the regional administration when it exceeds more than three days. The security cells are not necessarily located in a special area.

Some facilities have security cells with dry toilets. These are used in cases of serious suspicion of drug trafficking or drug use. The dry toilets make it possible to detect the possible presence of concealed and ingested narcotic products. Placement in this type of facility usually lasts three days and facilitates stool analysis after digestion.

For more information, see solitary confinement.

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness

in some cases

The classification of prison inmates depends primarily on the sentence handed down. Only persons placed in secure detention (forvaring) are imprisoned because of their alleged dangerousness.

The classification of prisoners is revised

on a case-by-case basis

A judge determines sentence length, evaluation frequency relative to possible renewal and associated restrictions for secure detention.

Since the 1980s, the prison administration has been trained in the concept of dynamic security in which prisoners and correctional officers dialogue towards resolving conflict. The maximum number of prisoners per ward is 25. The maximum number of guards is two.

The principle of dynamic security is extended to special secure detention units (forvaring). The guards in these units engage informally with inmates. The criteria for “acceptable behaviour” is less stringent here than in other units1.

  1. Hedda Giertsen.‘Prison and Welfare in Norway’; in M. Pavarini and L. Ferrari (eds), No Prison, 2018, pp. 149-150. 

The modalities and procedures for body searches are established in the Execution of Sentences Act.

Officers conduct cell and strip searches. This may involve the use of electronic devices or dogs (section 28).

The Correctional Service may authorise body cavity searches or other measures (e.g. urinalysis) if toxic substances, hormone preparations or other illegal chemicals are suspected. A health worker is in charge of the process (Penal Enforcement Act, section 29).

All searches are logged in a register

in some cases

Body cavity searches have been registered since 1992.

Urinalysis, the most common control measure since 1988, is also registered.

Strip and searches are mandatory after each visit and temporary leave. They are not recorded in the statistics1.

  1. Hedda Giertsen.‘Prison and Welfare in Norway’; in M. Pavarini and L. Ferrari (eds), No Prison, 2018, p. 150. 

Body cavity searches are conducted by a physician


Relatives who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

  • electronic devices
  • pat-down

Dogs may be used to check for objects.

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

electronic devices

“An examination using technical means or dogs in the presence of a lawyer and a representative of a public authority, including a consular or diplomatic representative, may be carried out only in high-security or special high security facilities” (Enforcement of Sentences Act, section 27)1.

Professionals gaining access to minimum security facilities or blocks are not subject to electronic monitoring2.

  1. 64 % of the prison estate. 

  2. 36% of the prison estate. 

Various means of restraint are used. Handcuffs and restraint belts are normally used during transfers. Restraint beds may be used in the case of a suicide attempt or an attempt to inflict self-harm. A corrections officer must always be present, and the inmate must be seen by a doctor every hour. If the use of restraint exceeds 12 hours, it must be reported to the regional authorities.

The facilities’ management is responsible for the initial authorization of the use of restraint. This responsibility may be turned over to other levels of authority (regional, national).

Security staff carry

non-lethal weapons

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


The prison administration has established a mentoring programme to prevent radicalisation. Prisoners at risk of radicalisation are individually assigned a correctional officer.

The prison service keeps record of incidents


Number of escapes


In 2018, all escapes were from low security facilities


Number of violent acts against prison staff



Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing


The establishment of disciplinary rules is devolved to the local level. Each region and facility has its own guidelines.

The applicable disciplinary measures are provided in section 40 of the Execution of Sentences Act :

  • written reprimand
  • loss of daily wage for a specified period
  • loss of privileges
  • exclusion from group activities (up to 20 days)
  • no temporary leave (up to 4 months)

A prison inmate may be placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons for a maximum period of 24 hours if suspected or guilty of committing an offence meriting the stated sanctions.

Disciplinary offences are investigated

in some cases

A prison guard drafts and submits an incident report. An inquiry is commenced.

The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate


Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer


The lawyer assists the inmate, at the outset, in the preparation of their case.

The facility’s governor makes the determination.

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


A first appeal may be lodged with the regional prison authorities and the second appeal with the central administration.

Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


A disciplinary penalty can affect the length of the sentence.

Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection
  • security

In the Norwegian prison system, solitary confinement is used for punitive separation or preventive separation (personal protection or security measure). This distinction is not always apparent.

Solitary confinement is decided

  • at a magistrate’s order
  • by the prison governor

Court-ordered solitary confinement:

The District Court may order isolation of remand prisoners to prevent collusion or tampering with evidence.

The court’s decision is subject to appeal. It is based exclusively on written arguments (Criminal Procedure Act, section 186a).

Solitary confinement by decision of the prison authorities:

The prison authorities may decide to place a person, whether an accused or convicted person, in solitary confinement. Such a decision may be justified as :

  • preventive measure in ordinary situations (Enforcement of Sentences Act, section 37).
  • coercive measure in a “security cell” or “smooth cell” (Execution of Sentences Act, section 38).
  • special high security treatment (særlig høy sikkerhet) (Execution of Sentences Act, section 10).
  • disciplinary penalty of a maximum of 24 hours (Execution of Sentences Act, sections 39 and 40).

The power of decision is normally vested in the head of the facility. Special cases (long sentences, minors, etc.) may require the involvement of the regional or national authorities.

Administrative decisions may be challenged in court. This type of appeal is rare. The procedure is costly and lengthy (sometimes longer than the measure itself).

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited

depending on the type of isolation

Court-ordered solitary confinement of persons in remand:

The length of isolation depends primarily on the length of the maximum sentence incurred. There is no time limit. A person charged with crimes punishable by a maximum of six years imprisonment may not be kept in solitary confinement for more than six weeks. The court may decide to extend the measure. The usual duration of the measure is two to four weeks. It rarely exceeds 90 days.

The isolation measure ordered by the court may be replaced by another decided by the prison authorities. The detainees are then kept in solitary confinement for a lengthy period, subject to the legal conditions.

Ordinary preventive solitary confinement (Penal Enforcement Act, Section 37):

Regional prison authorities decide on the measure for periods longer than 14 days. The national authorities should be notified of placements for more than 42 days and of each further period of 14 days. The duration of the measure should not exceed one year.

Administrative isolation of minors should not exceed seven days. The national authorities should be notified immediately and again for a period of more than five days. The regional authorities determine on placement for a period longer than three days.

Solitary confinement in special security cell (Enforcement of Sentences Act, section 38)

There is no limit on the duration of placement in special security cells. Continuation beyond three days is subject to the authorisation of the regional authorities. The national authorities shall be notified of any placement exceeding six days. These authorisations and warnings shall be 24 and 72 hours respectively for minors.

Special high-security isolation (Enforcement of Sentences Act, Section 10):

Placement in solitary confinement is mandatory for the special high-security regime.The regime involves strict security measures and may last for several years. It is not formally limited in time. It is used infrequently.

Disciplinary segregation (Penal Enforcement Act, section 40):

The duration of disciplinary isolation is limited to 24 hours.

Solitary confinement can be extended


The extension of solitary confinement is viewed in different ways.

The solitary confinement measure is subject to regular review


Inmates may challenge solitary confinement before the highest levels of the prison administration (regional or national).

Medical staff may issue an opinion on the extension of solitary confinement. The final decision is the responsibility of the administration. The administration balances medical and security considerations.

Prisoners in solitary confinement receive regular medical care


Medical care is provided when necessary. Doctors do not present at the facilities daily. Their presence is limited to a specific weekly schedule.

Solitary confinement takes place, depending on its nature, in an ordinary or special cell.

Solitary confinement by decision of the prison authorities (Enforcement of Sentences Act, sections 37 and 40) or by order of the court is carried out in an ordinary cell. The latter is often equipped with a sanitary block (shower and WC), furnished with a bed, table, chair and wardrobe, and has a usually barred window.

Solitary confinement in a special security cell (Enforcement of Sentences Act, section 38) is carried out in a cell without furniture. Personal clothing is wholly or partly removed. The prisoner is sometimes left naked or fitted in tear-proof safety clothing. The prisoner may be restrained in bed. These cells normally have no windows.

Special high-security isolation is carried out in a specific part of the facility. The living conditions are generally adequate (close to those encountered in ordinary cells). The security arrangements are very strict. Prisoners have no contact with each other and contact with staff is limited. Handcuffs, shackles and restraint belts are sometimes used.

Prisoners in solitary confinement in an ordinary cell or under maximum security are allowed one hour of exercise in the open air or in a gym every day.

Persons placed in solitary confinement may participate in activities or programmes. The number of activities allowed depends on the reason for the confinement, which may be partial or total (i.e. the prisoner may or may not be allowed to communicate with other inmates).
Persons in solitary confinement generally have access to the library and they may have a television in the cell. This is less often the case for remand prisoners placed in court-ordered solitary confinement.

Family ties are partially maintained during solitary confinement. Telephone calls may be restricted. Visits are, in most cases, authorized.
Prisoners who are isolated due to a court order are often denied telephone calls, visits and mail.
Visits to inmates in special high-security units or “security cells” are very limited. Visits take place in a space with a separating glass pane.
A person held in solitary confinement may inform their lawyers or loved ones.

Widespread use of solitary confinement for persons with mental illnesses is a recurring problem in Norwegian prisons. The governor and psychiatrist at Ila prison have spoken out publicly on this matter and have denounced its usage within their own facility.
Many organizations and professionals have also spoken out on this issue, which is the subject of public debate.
The NPM denounces this practice.