bastoy prison

Bastøy Prison

Bastøy Prison is a minimum-security prison located on Bastøy Island in Norway. It first opened in 1900, with the goal of being a more humane and rehabilitative prison. Located on a beautiful island, Bastøy allows prisoners more freedoms and responsibilities to simulate normal life. This progressive approach has produced impressive results in reducing recidivism.

Location and layout

Bastøy Island is located just a mile away from the city of Horten, though it feels isolated. Prisoners live in shared houses dotted around the 2.6 square mile island. With forests, farm land and beaches, it feels peaceful. Prisoners move freely around Bastøy, with minimal security besides a shoreline guarded to prevent escape attempts by boat.

Philosophy and approach

Bastøy aims to give prisoners the chance to live in conditions similar to normal society. Prisoners can work, cook meals together, and have hobbies – while learning to take responsibility. There is an emphasis on trust and reintegrating individuals. Guards are unarmed and act as mentors rather than enforcers. This humane environment motivates prisoners to change.

Daily Life at Bastøy

Housing and facilities

Prisoners live together in shared houses around Bastøy. With access to common areas and cooking facilities, it mimics normal home life. The houses feature shared bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and living space. There are communal facilities like a school, library, church and shops. Outside there is a football pitch, vegetable gardens and even a sauna.

Jobs and activities

Daily work is voluntary but encouraged. Prisoners maintain the island doing forestry, agriculture and fishing jobs. Others work as cooks, cleaners, in the library or bike repair shop. Education and training courses are offered through the prison school. Leisure activities include tennis, climbing, choir, or training dogs to aid disabled people. Prisoners have hobbies like painting and playing music.

See also  Gjøvik Prison

Rules and privileges

Life reflects wider society with rewards for good behaviour. Prisoners must return to their house by 11pm and take random drug tests. Infractions mean loss of privileges like television. Serious incidents or escapes lead prisoners to be moved to higher-security jails. Those who engage positively with rehabilitation programs earn freedoms like home visits or days out in Bergen and Oslo.

Rehabilitation Programs


Bastøy School offers primary, secondary and vocational education including courses tailored to individual prisoners. Subjects like math, Norwegian and English help prisoners gain skills needed for finding employment. Some prisoners study towards degrees. Education is voluntary but most participate, valuing the opportunity. Teachers provide additional support addressing specific needs or learning difficulties.

Work training

Prisoners receive practical work experience through the island jobs. Other opportunities include apprenticeships in carpentry, vehicle maintenance or agriculture. Some gain qualifications to drive trucks, tractors and boats. These meaningful skills increase self-worth and boost motivation. Previous prisoners have been hired for jobs on Bastøy after release.

Therapy and counseling

A range of psychological services address underlying issues and trauma. Group counseling sessions deliver cognitive behavioral therapy focusing on victim awareness, managing emotions and conflict resolution. Specialist counselors provide individual support for addiction, sexual offences and family issues. Healing damaged mental health is key for prisoners embracing reintegration.

Results and Criticisms

Recidivism rates

Bastøy has significantly lower reoffending rates than traditional Norwegian prisons. Within 2 years of release, around 16% of ex-Bastøy prisoners re-offend compared to around 35% nationwide. Critics argue Norway’s system generally produces better outcomes. However, Bastøy still outperforms comparative lower security prisons. Rehabilitative approaches clearly achieve strong results.

See also  Haugesund Prison

Cost effectiveness

Bastøy’s operating costs are higher than typical Norwegian jails. Yet specialists argue factoring in economic, social and crime costs over the long term, the investment pays off. Rehabilitating prisoners to become productive citizens provides immense savings across welfare, policing, courts and prisons. Bastøy’s model deserves long-term funding as a morally and economically wise public service.

Ethical debates

Some critics argue Bastøy ‘treats criminals too nicely’ failing to properly punish them. Victims groups condemn prisoners accessing comfortable lifestyles. However, human rights organizations commend the humane enviroment respecting prisoner dignity. Additionally, Bastøy’s outcomes show prisoners change behaviours more effectively in these conditions. Revenge matters less than people returning positively to society.

The Future of Bastøy

Expansion plans

Given Bastøy’s strong performance, expansion plans are underway driven by prisoner demand. A new house for intensive drug rehabilitation treatment will open in 2023. Land has been purchased nearby for a larger sister prison adopting Bastøy’s approach, set to initially host 300 female prisoners. Norway aims to move away from traditional penal policy towards rehabilitative prisons modeled on Bastøy.

Influencing other prisons

Bastøy provides inspiration internationally for penal reform centered on human dignity. Senior staff have hosted regular visits from foreign justice ministers and prison governors. Aspects of Bastøy’s model have been integrated into new prisons worldwide, tailored locally for different contexts. Several documentaries and Bastøy’s global media coverage encourages continued public debate driving progressive change.

Ongoing challenges

Despite the resounding success, threats from shifting political winds remain with some conservative voices suggesting traditional prisons would be cheaper. There are ongoing challenges resourcing quality rehabilitation services and meeting prisoner expectations within Bastøy’s utopian environment. However, Bastøy’s strong evidence and public support provide resilience if faced with pressure from critics.

See also  Bjørgvin Prison

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

In conclusion, Norway’s pioneering Bastøy Prison represents a new frontier for humane, rehabilitative incarceration. Prisoners housed in peaceful, normalized living conditions are learning self-responsibility and life skills essential for positive reintegration into society. With prisoners treated with dignity as individuals capable of change, Bastøy achieves impressive results slashing reoffending rates. Bastøy provides an inspirational model motivating worldwide prison reform centred on rehabilitation not punishment. The success emphasizes environment and treatment are key factors determining prisoner outcomes. Bastøy’s courageous humanitarian approach with prisoners ultimately benefits all communities through lower crime, reduced future victims and vast taxpayer savings over the long term.


Where is Bastøy Prison located?

Bastøy Prison is located on Bastøy Island, just a mile away from the Norwegian city of Horten situated on the Oslofjord. Prisoners live in shared houses across the island.

What jobs do prisoners do on Bastøy?

Prisoners take on daily work maintaining the island including forestry, farming and fishing. Other roles are cooks, cleaners, vehicle mechanics, bike repair and working in the library or shops. Some prisoners also undergo vocational training.

How many prisoners have escaped from Bastøy?

Over 20 years, around 16 prisoners have successfully escaped by swimming ashore from Bastøy then fleeing – but most are quickly captured. Escapes mean prisoners are transferred to higher security facilities with longer sentences.

What activities do prisoners do for recreation?

Recreation activities on Bastøy include tennis, football, climbing, choir, painting, dog training programs, boat building and music. Prisoners also relax through pastimes like playing chess, watching television or reading books from the library.

How does Bastøy compare to conventional prisons?

Bastøy has much lower reoffending rates than typical Norwegian prisons. 16% of ex-Bastøy prisoners reoffend within 2 years, compared to 35% nationwide. This suggests rehabilitative models focused on responsibility, trust and skills training achieve better outcomes reducing recidivism.

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