Just how cushy are Norwegian prisons?

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Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, is arguing that conditions in the prison where he is held violate his human rights. Many Norwegian prisons, on the other hand, are seen by foreigners as extremely cushy. Lars Bevanger describes a system described by one American visitor as “prison utopia”.

Two Norwegian institutions vie for the title of the world’s “nicest” or “most humane” prison.

Inmates on the prison island of Bastoey, south of Oslo, are free to walk around in a village-style setting, tending to farm animals. They ski, cook, play tennis, play cards. They have their own beach, and even run the ferry taking people to and from the island. And in the afternoon when most prison staff go home, only a handful of guards are left to watch the 115 prisoners.

“We have something we call the ‘normality principle’ in the Norwegian correctional service,” says Tom Eberhardt, the prison governor.

“Daily prison life should not be any different than ordinary life, as far as this is possible.”

Media captionThe BBC’s Paul Henley visits Bastoey prison in 2012

The other prison that tends to leave foreign visitors speechless is Halden, also in southern Norway, close to the Swedish border.

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