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March 23, 2011

"Hardened Criminals Held in Freedom: Doing Time on Norway's Island Prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting, lengthy piece from Germany's Spiegel Online. Here is how it gets started and a few notable passages:

No bars. No walls. No armed guards.  The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals.  Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons.  For some inmates, it is more than they can handle....

There is only one pistol on Bastøy -- a bronze sculpture in the warden's office. The warden, Arne Nilsen, is a slim man in his early sixties, a man who doesn't need a uniform to convey his authority.  He doesn't know where the pistol came from.  It's always been there.

The warden is a man who deals in freedom.  He is also a visionary.  He wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other.  What he doesn't want is a camera in the supermarket.  He doesn't want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.

The inmates on Bastøy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime and petty theft.  "We don't pick out the mild cases," says Nilsen.  Some inmates serve their entire sentences on the island.  Murderers can only apply to be transferred to the island once they have served two-thirds of their sentences elsewhere.  Some 115 prisoners live on Bastøy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community.  Anyone caught drinking alcohol or fighting is thrown out....

This paradise has been around for 20 years -- and has a warden who loves statistics.  The numbers, after all, prove him right.  Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastøy as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole.  In Germany, where recidivism is measured after three years, the rate is 50 percent.

The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island -- and because no one left Bastøy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.

March 23, 2011 at 02:14 AM | Permalink


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The 16% vs 20% is not impressive given the selection and self selection processes. The difference is too small to be felt at the gut level. The completion of most of the sentence also skews the eligibility toward old people. They commit fewer crimes anyway, not matter what the method. There is also little point in the hard work of crime when the government has already pre-robbed the tax payer to give parasites great benefits.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 23, 2011 5:40:40 AM

S.C. gives us four sentences of thoughtful, on-point commentary and one sentence of wackiness. Well, his ratio is improving.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 23, 2011 1:11:36 PM

Two thoughts on this:

First, it sounds like internal exile, an idea not without its virtues.

Second, if prisons in the USA operated this way, and one inmate assaulted another, dontcha know that the victim inmate would file a civil rights suit claiming that the prison authorities did not impose sufficiently confining conditions on his assailant, and are therefore legally responsible. And for once, they'd have a point.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 23, 2011 3:22:03 PM

How true bill!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 23, 2011 5:25:16 PM

The pride of the warden in his methods suggests the pride of the warden in the giant tattoo execution machine in Kafka's "In the Penal Colony".

Posted by: Fred | Mar 23, 2011 11:11:18 PM

Kent: Thanks for noticing. I would like a little more progress among the excellent lawyers here in less denial of the failure of the criminal law, the faith based central doctrines and methods, and the atavism of being the only practitioners to operate as people did 700 years ago.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2011 6:50:19 PM

Thanks for your share,thanks a lot.Good luck!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:17:48 AM

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