Norway to 'export' inmates to Dutch jails to cut queues

Skien maximum security jail in Norway, on 24 July 2012 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Skien maximum security prison's best known inmate is Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik

Norway plans to export its prisoners to jails in the Netherlands to ease overcrowding and carry out urgent maintenance work, the government says.

It will rent up to 300 prison places from the Dutch, who already lease some of their extra capacity to Belgium.

Under the agreement, prisoners will be guarded by Dutch wardens, but the director will be Norwegian.

Norway has a current jail capacity shortage despite relatively low incarceration rates.

The nation is known for treating its inmates relatively humanely. Its non-violent offenders, for instance, are often held in open prisons with the freedom to move, work, enjoy recreational facilities and focus on rehabilitation.

However, according to a government analysis in 2013, there is now a backlog of renovation works needed that will cost an estimated NOK 4.4bn (£435m) and will involve temporarily shutting some jails or prison branches.

In addition, the growing queue of convicts needing prison spaces, which currently stands at 1300, is adding pressure to the demand on detention space.

Norway's prison deal

  • Norway has 1300 convicts waiting for prison places
  • The Dutch prison population has been falling steadily since 2008
  • Norwegian prisoners will serve their sentences on Dutch territory under Norwegian law from 2015
  • No prisoner presenting a security risk will be sent to the Netherlands
  • No Norwegian prisoner will be discharged from Dutch soil
  • At 20%, Norway's re-offending rate is one of the lowest in the world

"The situation is urgent, and we must consider short-term measures. Leasing prison capacity abroad may contribute to alleviating the situation. That is why we have started talks with the Netherlands," Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said.

However, to begin the cooperation, the two countries must first conclude a treaty. There are a number of details to resolve, including how often detainees may be visited by family and friends living back in Norway.

The Netherlands has already been housing overflow prisoners from Belgium at a prison in Tilburg in the south, near the Belgian border, under a deal the two countries signed in 2009.

Last year, Norway explored the idea of leasing prison capacity from neighbouring Sweden, but the plan was dropped over Swedish reservations at having to adjust its legislation.

Norway, whose population is around 5 million, has an incarceration rate of 72 in every 100,000 people, about a tenth of the level in the United States.

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