Dutch prison hosts Norwegians
First Norwegian prisoners begin serving sentences at Norgerhaven Prison
M. Michael Brady
Early in the afternoon of Sept. 2, a busload of men from Norway arrived in the village of Veenhuizen in the province of Drenthe, northeast in the Netherlands. The purpose of their trip was neither business nor pleasure. They were prisoners, the first of 112 being transferred this year from prisons in Norway to continue serving their sentences in Norgerhaven Prison.
It was the first-ever transfer of Norwegian prisoners to serve their sentences abroad. In an editorial published in the July 27 edition of Aftenposten (www.kriminalomsorgen.no/norske-fengsler-er-smekkfulle.5780816-237613.html, in Norwegian), Lawyer Marianne Vollan, Director General of Kriminalomsorgen (Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service) outlined the rationale of the incentive that had been approved in June by the Storting (parliament).
The basic problem and its need for a solution can be explained by one single statistic: Norwegian prisons are overfull. Norway has 43 prisons with a total capacity of 3,809 cells. That’s not enough to meet current needs. At this writing, there’s a queue of some 1,100 people waiting to serve their sentences.
For Norway, this is a large number. In relative terms, Norway is among the countries that imprison the fewest people, just 91 per 100,000 population, compared to more than 700 per 100,000 population in the U.S.
The obvious solution is to build more prison capacity. But that takes time, and the need is now. So Norway’s renting of the Norgerhaven Prison with its capacity of 242 prisoners is a win-win situation. With a dwindling number of prisoners, the Netherlands has excess capacity.
As a Norwegian prison, Norgerhaven is rented for 25.5 million euros (about $28.5 million) a year, initially for three years, with an optional extension. The director and managers are Norwegian, and the guards are Dutch, who have been through courses in English language and Norwegian law.
Norway is selective about the prisoners sent to Norgerhaven. Only male prisoners with longer sentences are being sent. Female prisoners, pre-trial detention prisoners, and ill or drug rehabilitation prisoners will not be sent.
Despite its small size, the village of Veenhuizen and its two prisons figure in contemporary Dutch culture. Celebrities have done time there for drunk driving, and the Dutch version of the Johnny Cash song “San Quentin” features Veenhuizen.
“Serving a sentence in Norgerhaven Prison in the Netherlands,” Norwegian Correctional Service, Sept. 2, 2015, downloadable from the Ministry of Justice website in English, at www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/norway-opens-prison-in-the-netherlands/id2438108.
Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service, overview of the Service in English, downloadable from: www.kriminalomsorgen.no/index.php?cat=265199.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.