Halden Prison in Norway isn't your typical correctional institution. The focus here is on rehabilitation and normalcy. It's an approach that wields desirable results; the inmates thrive in harmony when they exist in an environment that doesn't compromise their humanity. Jan Stromnes, the deputy warden of the facility, believes that other prisons can learn and gain from their example. Breaking the Cycle follows him as he travels to prisons across the United States to urge for badly needed reforms.
Determined to view each inmate as a human being who committed a crime instead of a disposable criminal unworthy of compassion, Stromnes and his staff are shown interacting with the prisoners in auto repair shops and recreation rooms. Their relationships are built upon open communication, mutual understanding and respect. This collaborative exchange promotes a well behaved population, minimal inmate infractions and healthy growth during their periods of incarceration.
This is just one of the ideas that seems so revolutionary as Stromnes enters the gates of the infamous Attica Correctional Facility in Wyoming County, New York. Behind these walls and out in the yard, an imposing climate of fear dominates each inmate's every move. Security and self-preservation are the key focus at the expense of all else. This encapsulates the attitude towards incarceration across much of the country.
Stromnes sits with a select group of inmates in Attica and asks them to workshop their ideal prison setting. Most of them yearn for an environment that feels more akin to a campus; where educational and vocational programs can lead them to a sense of purpose and more appealing possibilities upon release.
Some American prisons - such as the North Dakota State Penitentiary - are taking the initiative and attempting to build a more fruitful rehabilitation experience. Officials there pose the same question raised by the film: are we improving the potential of those we're eventually going to allow re-entry into society?
The topic of prison reform is a crucial one, but it's plagued by baffling bureaucracy, budgetary restrictions and societal stigmatisms. Breaking the Cycle embraces the exploration of fresh ideas and meaningful change.