Around 20 Norwegian prisoners will already be in place in new Dutch cells when Norwegian authorities ceremoniously take over a key to the Norgerhaven Prison in Veenhuizen, the Netherlands on Wednesday. The first Norwegian inmates were being flown down on Tuesday.
The controversial agreement to transfer Norwegian prisoners to the Dutch jail, because of an acute shortage of jail space in Norway, was signed last March. It calls for a total of 242 prisoners convicted in Norwegian courts to be able to serve their time abroad, after Norwegian authorities leased the space for three years at a cost of around NOK 220 million per year.
The Norgerhaven Prison in the northern portion of the Netherlands will officially function as a division of Ullersmo Prison in Norway. Prisoners being transferred will be flown to the Netherlands on weekly chartered flights through September, as part of Justice Minister Anders Anundsen’s efforts to reduce waiting lists for prison space. He claimed last spring that the former left-center government had left the prison system in “intolerable” shape, with Norwegian jails now running 98 percent full. Anundsen said it was “absolutely necessary” to acquire more prison space quickly.
Better exercise facilities
The Dutch prison has undergone renovation, with the jail “cells” actually amounting to single rooms equipped with a bed, sink, work space and TV among other amenities. Norwegian prison leader Karl Hillesland, who’s in place in Veenhuizen himself, told news bureau NTB that the Norgerhaven Prison will resemble an “average” Norwegian prison but that exercise facilities for the prisoners will be better than at home.
The first Norwegians serving their prison sentences there have volunteered for the transfer from Norwegian prisons, but if there’s a lack of volunteers to make use of 242 leased cells, some inmates may be transferred involuntarily.
That’s set off protests in Norway from prisoner advocates who complain that the prisoners will be unduly separated from their families and children, since it will be difficult for them to visit. Norwegian authorities responded that the prisoners will receive extended telephone time and weekly Skype contact.
Dutch guards on Norwegian premises
The prison will be staffed by Dutch prison guards working under Norwegian regulations for incarceration. Hillesland told NTB that he sees more similarities between the Dutch and Norwegian prison systems than differences.
“Among the most important things I’ve noted is that the basic precepts of the Dutch staff are very similar to the Norwegian,” he said. “There are some practical differences, but the system is based on the same attitudes toward human dignity and goals for incarceration.”
The prison has a high level of security and will house male convicts ineligible for prison leave and who have several years to serve before they become eligible for parole. Some are serving murder sentences, but will be transferred back to Norwegian prisons at least two months before they’ll become eligible for parole.