The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has officially launched “Little Scandinavia,” a unit in a state prison to focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.

The new unit at SCI Chester comes after a multiyear partnership with the Norwegian Correctional Service and the Swedish Prison and Probation Service. Little Scandinavia residents have access to a communal kitchen, green space, and redesigned cells, furniture and common areas.

Kenneth Eason, superintendent of SCI Chester, said it is about creating a more humane prison environment.

“You’re going to see a change in culture, the rippling effect, and not just within the walls,” Eason contended. “I’m speaking wellness in the men, living healthier, things introduced to them that they truly need to be successful, to move on beyond these walls and do well, and not come back.”

In 2019, state prison employees traveled to Norway, Sweden and Denmark to gain experience working under the Scandinavian model for several weeks. Little Scandinavia residents will receive specialized programming to prepare them for reentry. The unit has 64 cells.

The partnership also includes a research collaboration between Drexel University and the University of Oslo to evaluate the effectiveness of the model.

Jordan Hyatt, associate professor of criminology and justice studies at Drexel, said it is about understanding how the development of Little Scandinavia affects life at SCI Chester.

“What does it mean for the men who are living on this unit? How does it change the way they see their community, themselves and being in prison?” Hyatt outlined. “In the long term, we hope to understand what this means for community reintegration. When people leave Little Scandinavia, where do they go, both from a staff perspective and for the men incarcerated?”

Data will be collected on prison climate, staff, disciplinary actions and the well-being of the people serving their sentences there. Acting Corrections Department Secretary George Little said he hopes to see a similar program implemented at one of the women’s prisons as well.