Falstad Institution for the Upbringing of Troubled Boys was established in 1895. The expressed aim was to «educate such boys to become honest and useful members of society through a Christian upbringing». Falstad Reformative School was formally dissolved in 1949.
Falstad Reformative School was part of the Norwegian residential school movement which in its day represented a progressive view on education and upbringing.
The reformative school movement in Norway demonstrated a shift of thought in Europe. The view on crime changed radically in the course of the 19th century. The emergence of modern psychology and psychiatry lay the foundation for new perceptions of the criminal and the causes of crime. One now wanted to save and raise children rather than punish and discipline them. The state encouraged social measures directed towards individuals who did not comply with the norms of society.
Placing the institution in a local community was part of the new mindset. The location was a break with the «island principle» that had characterised Norwegian reformative schools so far, such as that of Bastøy, an island which housed a reformative school for troubled boys. The break was intentional. Placing the school in the local community offered the pupils a chance to grow up within society rather than outside it. In other words, choosing Falstad as a location was an educational measure intended to prevent isolation.
From December 1895 the reformative school housed 50 boys, with ages ranging from 10-18 years old. The boys were taken out of their homes and placed at Falstad. The pupils had either committed crimes themselves or had been neglected, mistreated and «morally corrupted» by their parents.
The institution was established on the model of the middle class family, with the head as a unifying and authoritative paterfamilias. The aim was for the institution to provide the boys with a healthy home environment. However, various forms of punishment was used extensively as part of the upbringing.
The brick building was designed by the architect Claus Hjelte in 1920. The building was inspired by German prison architecture, and was originally planned as a special unit for the school. However, fire and reforms meant that the building was never used as originally intended.
The German Nazis seized the brick building in the autumn of 1941. The reformative school moved out of the building, but continued operating at the nearby farm Falstad nedre (also known as «Øvergården», «the Upper Farm») until 1944. For various reasons, some of the pupils were at times placed in Nazi custody in the prison camp.