by Claire Soares
From Alcatraz to Robben Island, offshore prisons are nothing new but Norway's version has a special claim to fame. It bills itself as the world's first ecological jail.
Bastoey Prison, located on the island of the same name about 50 miles south of Oslo, has solar panels, heats its buildings with wood-waste rather than oil, operates a strict recycling policy and is almost self-sufficient in terms of food.
If inmates at this prison do porridge, it is organic porridge. For it is not only recreational drugs that are banned, pesticides are too. All the potatoes, beans, grains and berries grown in the prison garden are 100 per cent organic. The prison receives grants from environmental groups, and any food that doesn't get used in its own kitchen is sold to other jails.
To put some protein in their diet, the inmates also look after 200 chickens, 40 sheep and 20 cows as well as fishing in the waters of the Skagerrak Sea. "It's part of our way to make inmates take responsibility, by getting them to look after plants and animals," the prison's deputy governor, Per Eirik Lund, said yesterday.
Prisoners also helped install the solar panels. The green energy generators are only on the roof of one of the accommodation blocks for now but with officials expecting them to reduce electricity needs by about 70 per cent in that building, it will not be long before more are installed.
In Norway, the prison system is more relaxed than in Britain, with the maximum sentence just 21 years and few inmates serving that time. But on Bastoey Island, the 115 inmates, who include murderers and rapists, might be forgiven for thinking themselves at summer camp. There is no barbed wire around the perimeter and the prisoners do not have to put up with wardens locking them into their cells at night. When the weather is warm, there is even a beach and a nature reserve to enjoy.
"You can either make prison pure punishment or you can try to make inmates into good neighbours, to do something positive. Our main objective is to prove we are a prison that reduces recidivism and the ecological approach is part of that strategy," said Mr Lund.
One 41-year-old inmate called Knut, who is serving a sentence for narcotics smuggling, was transferred to the island after becoming depressed and psychologically troubled at a maximum-security prison. "When I got to Bastoey, it was like I got air under my wings," he told a Norwegian newspaper.
And he is not alone in embracing the environmentally-friendly regime, according to the deputy governor. "Some of the prisoners have become more green than us. On one occasion I came in to work, drinking coffee from a disposable cup and one of them gave me a hard time, 'Oi guvnor, that's not very green!'"