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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
'Green' prison softens tough convicts
By Neil Arun
BBC News

Convicts at a remote Norwegian prison are striving to save the planet while serving time.

Inmate cleaning Bastoey harbour
The prison is located on a lush island in a fjord near Oslo

From its peaceful island location, lapped by fjord waters, the Bastoey prison aims to become a beacon for environmentally friendly incarceration.

Inmates at the minimum-security facility have been recycling their rubbish and installing solar panels to shrink their carbon footprint.

Bastoey's mixed population of drug smugglers, fraudsters, rapists and murderers grow organic vegetables and tend to animals that eventually find their way back to the prison kitchen.

Many of the men are nearing the end of sentences served in Norway's tougher jails.

Bastoey is the beginning of their rehabilitation - a way of easing their re-entry into society.

"If you are sentenced for a long time in a high-security prison, you are afraid of going back into society, going out and about," prison officer Trina Smith told the BBC News website.

"On this island, the whole environment cools them down," she says.

Fewer guards, no guns

Bastoey prison has its own beach and fields. Cows, sheep and chicken kept at a farm are looked after by the prisoners.

The animals are reared for their meat but are not allowed to be slaughtered at the site.

Bastoey inmate, serving three years for drug smuggling, outside prison building
Convicts sent to Bastoey can expect a more relaxed regime

Horses are also kept, used instead of trucks to do much of the haulage work, Ms Smith says.

She says Bastoey's inmates lead busy lives. Besides tending to the livestock, they can maintain the prison's buildings, work in its kitchen or look after the boat linking Bastoey to the mainland.

Ms Smith believes society at large reaps dividends from the drive to make the prison greener.

"We want to make the prisoners more aware of their environment," she says, adding that those released rarely re-offend.

According to a press release issued by prison director Oeyvind Alnaes: "Living in an environment that gives them individual responsibility, challenges and demands ... can motivate inmates to change their behaviour."

Prison officials have also been quoted as saying the facility is cheaper to run than other prisons.

The jail meets many of its own energy and food needs and is policed by fewer staff than other, more secure, facilities.

According to Ms Smith, no more than four guards watch over some 115 prisoners during the evenings. They do not carry guns.

'Responsible' escapes

Prisoners who break the jail's rules risk being transferred to a more secure facility - a potent deterrent, Ms Smith says.

Bastoey inmate in workshop
Inmates gain experience that can help them find work again

Those who flee the facility before their time is up have one obligation - to phone the jail.

"We tell all the prisoners that if they escape, they must telephone to let us know they've made it safely to the mainland," Ms Smith says.

The phone call spares the prison from having to organise an expensive search-and-rescue mission in the fjord.

Ms Smith says no one has escaped successfully in the last five years.

"I was on duty one night when we noticed a boat had gone missing," she says. "We called the police, who rang back an hour later to say the boat had been found."

"They found the prisoner too - by following his footprints in the snow."

Green goals

Some prisoners at Bastoey have been unwilling to leave at the end of their sentences, Ms Smith says.

Bastoey inmate feeds a sheep
Animals kept at the site are reared organically

"Their sentences might have been reduced for good behaviour - but they will then apply to serve their full sentence, so they can stay at Bastoey."

"It's usually when they have no one waiting for them outside, nothing to look forward to."

The authorities at Bastoey hope other facilities in Norway and beyond will copy their example. Visitors to the site so far have left impressed, Ms Smith says.

But, she says, much work must still be done on Bastoey's path to carbon-neutrality.

"We are now looking to reduce our electricity consumption and to recycle all the waste from our old landfill sites."

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