Government plans to build new jails

After suffering a severe shortage of jail space for years, Norway’s conservative government has proposed building no less than four new prisons and expanding cell space at existing prisons. Justice Minister Anders Anundsen told newspaper VG that at least 2,000 more jail cells are needed by 2040.

The Halden Prison, which just opened a few years ago, is set to be expanded by 100 cells. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

The Halden Prison, which just opened a few years ago, is set to be expanded by 100 cells. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

One of the new prisons is planned for Agder in southern Norway, with 300 new jail cells. The government also proposes adding 100 new jail cells at each of the prisons in Bergen, Halden and Skien. The Åna Prison in Rogaland will get 50 new jail cells.

In the meantime, Norwegian officials completed their recently reported agreement to send more than 200 Norwegian convicts to serve their time at a prison in the Netherlands. The agreement was viewed as a “short-term solution” to Norway’s prison problem.

Norway’s chronic prison shortage has resulted in convicts being placed on waiting lists to serve their sentences. Jail space is usually found for the most dangerous criminals but other convicts are routinely set free pending jail cell availability.

‘Far too many’ convicts go free
Norwegian prisons are so full, reported state broadcaster NRK on Friday, that many people arrested by police are quickly released from custody because there’s no place to hold them. Some prisoners are also released early, to make room for new convicts. Norway’s new conservative government coalition claims it’s keen to address the problem.

“There are far too many people who should be in prison but who go free because of the jail shortage,” Helge André Njåstad of the government Progress Party, who leads the municipal government committee in Parliament.

All told, the government proposes increasing the number of jail cells in Norway by 560 as soon as possible, with the remainder built over the next 20 years. Ulf Leirstein, a member of the Parliament’s justice committee for the Progress Party, said construction of new cells can begin next year.

1,200 on the waiting list
“We hope we’re talking about getting started within months, and that some of the cells can be completed within the next year,” Leirstein told NRK. The government will need approval in Parliament, but with around 1,200 convicts now waiting to serve their jail sentences, there wasn’t expected to be much opposition. Members of Parliament from the Conservative Party, which leads the government coalition, claimed that prison capacity in Norway had been neglected for far too many years.

Officials at Norway’s department of corrections (Kriminalomsorg) were relieved, calling the government initiative “a major boost.”  “Lack of prison space has been a problem we have had for many years,” Per Sigurd Våre, a regional director for Kriminalomsorgen Vest, told NRK. “This is absolutely a good day for us.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund