Bastoy: Norway’s Island Of Freedom For Prisoners

bastoey-prision_noruegaDer Spiegel takes a look at the resort-like island that houses some of Norway’s most hardened convicts — they are given a wide berth to do as they please, but must complete their work and behave civilly, or risk being shipped back to regular prison. Is this how criminal rehabilitation could be done here?

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.

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.

The ferry operates on a regular schedule. It would be possible to swim to the mainland or find a boat in the summer, and the ocean often freezes over in the winter. The idea is that the prisoners should have an incentive to stay, and that they are still there when the count is taken — four times a day.

A piece of driftwood hangs on the wall. Someone painted a fish, a sailboat and seagull onto the driftwood, and the words “Bastøy — Gangster’s Paradise.”

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.

In Norway, about a third of prisons are open like Bastøy, and parliament has now ruled that there will be more open prisons in the future. Most people think this is a good idea.

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  • Dr Kelly

    Once again Norway leading the world.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Norway, less sadistic fucks per capita than you may be accustomed to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001489604409 Stein Leirvik

    Crime rates among the lowest in the world in % of pop.

  • Mr Willow

    Said prison wardens in the US: “Pussies.”

    And once more I sigh and hang my head in shame. . . 

  • Nunzio X

    NOTE TO SELF: Some European prisons offer better quality of life than many American cities.

    Huh. Go figure.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Time to go commit some felonies in Europe?

    • neurolux

      The problem, of course, is with our cities.

  • BallsChained

    Modern society is a prison.

  • Gregory Wyrdmaven

    Yes, but this piece doesn’t mention the evil, giant balloons.

    • Ormono

      this.

  • anon.

    God dang If i didn’t know any better I would sell all my belonging in the USA. take a flight to Norway and commit as much crime as I could without hurting anyone (no violence)

    Then when i get sentenced to the prison for my crime I would behave well and get transfered to the island community where you have grown your own food and live in paradise.

    Much better than me eating 80cent banquet meals every day to stay alive.
    Sometimes I wonder if prison would be better than how I live now.

  • neurolux

    Looks like a great training ground to teach people how to live civilly.

  • rtb61

    You want viscous animals, you brutalise them. You want viscous recidivist criminals, you brutalise them.

  • Micah Dylan

    Great article, except for the last sentence … “Most people think this is a good idea.”

    Am I the only one who realizes how stupid that sounds?

    Most people? The fuck are most people? Did you take a poll or something? Most people in Norway? In the world? In parliament? C’mon man don’t write a good article & end it with a shit sentence … that’s like fixing a great meal & garnishing it with rat turds.

    • Micah Dylan

      i just found the full article oops my mistake … is there no way to delete a comment once it is made? Still a goofy sentence to end this excerpt with & no link at the bottom to the full article (link is at the top)

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