Ombud assails Norway’s jails

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Norway’s prisons are often described as “hotels” by foreign inmates who marvel over their single cells, some of which even have flat-screen TVs. Norwegian jails are not good enough, however, for inspectors from the country’s own civilian ombudsman who sees risk of “torture and inhuman treatment.”

Prison authorities are having trouble deporting foreign convicts from cells like this at the new prison in Halden. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Cells like this at one of Norway’s newer prisons, in Halden, have won international acclaim for their “hotel-like” amenities that include flat-screen TVs. Prison standards vary, however, and the country’s civilian ombudsman has delivered a critical report on conditions to Parliament. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

That’s something normally feared far outside Europe’s borders but for Aage Thor Falkanger, Norway’s civilian ombudsman, the risk is serious. After surprise visits to four prisons in Norway, he claims the country needs a state agency charged with monitoring prison conditions and revealing what he defines as torture and inhuman treatment.

He’s not talking about physical torture but rather what he calls “degrading conditions” found at several prisons in Norway. He visited prisons in Tromsø and Bergen and central arrest holding cells in Drammen and Tønsberg last year. His report on conditions found in 2014 was turned over to Members of Parliament on Monday.

“There are human rights violations in Norway,” Falkanger told news bureau NTB. “People who are stripped of their freedom are vulnerable.” He contends that he and his staff uncovered violations that need to be corrected.

He cited “deficient routines” for exchange of information between the police and prison authorities (Kriminalomsorg) that could hinder suicide among prisoners, for example. He also a lack of “satisfactory” health care services for both inmates and suspects held in remand custody.

The ombud’s “experiences in 2014 show that Norway has a need for an independent agency charged with revealing and preventing the risk of torture and inhuman treatment,” Falkanger concluded in his report.

He added that the inspectors also found some examples of “good practice” regarding the care of both convicts serving prison terms and criminal suspects held under arrest pending trial.

This year the ombud will be inspecting psychiatric institutions, care centers for troubled youth and the Trandum asylum center at Gardermoen, where rejected refugees, illegal aliens and foreign criminals are held before being sent out of the country. Several of those being held at Trandum went on a rampage last week, vandalizing the facility to protest what they called poor food, a lack of exercise equipment and recreational activities, and earlier lock-up.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund