hof prison

Hof Prison

For over 16 decades, Hof Prison served as an important correctional facility in southern Norway’s Vestfold og Telemark county. First opened under King Oscar I’s rule in 1855, this prison underwent many changes before its ultimate closure in 2019. Hof’s unique history reflects shifts in Norway’s inmate populations, economics, politics, and philosophies around incarceration itself.

Opening and Early Years (1855-1900)

Construction on Hof Prison began in 1853 on farmland donated by a local sheriff named Niels Arnt Holck Lund. The initial design called for just 16 solitary confinement cells for maximum security prisoners. However, authorities later adapted the plans for 56 communal cells to accommodate lower-risk inmates.

This new prison quickly filled beyond capacity. Its remote location far from urban courts complicated the transfer of detainees and convicted criminals. Yet Hof lay near smelters and other industries that utilized prison labor – a common practice at that time.

By 1865, over 80 individuals crammed into Hof’s small cell blocks intended for 50. Extensive renovations and additions sought to alleviate the overcrowding. As Norway’s prison populations grew throughout the late 1800s, Hof Prison expanded right alongside them.

New cell blocks in 1876 increased capacity to 96 prisoners. Further growth in inmate intakes forced yet another expansion to house 150 by 1890. But within the decade, Hof Prison was again turning away convicts due to lack of space.

Expansions and Renovations (1900-1950)

Entering the 20th century, Hof Prison underwent massive infrastructure upgrades and additions to become more modern and humane. Central heating, plumbing, ventilation, and electrical systems installed from 1902 to 1906 improved living conditions. The original 1855 cell block saw remodeling into a two-story cell house.

See also  Bastøy Prison

Cell blocks added
Two new cell blocks built between 1911 and 1913 increased the total number of cells to 190. By adding a second story onto another cell house, authorities squeezed in enough beds to meet demand.

New guard towers
Concerns over security and prisoner management resulted in four open-air guard towers erected around Hof’s perimeter. Guards occupied these towers 24 hours a day, keeping watch for escape attempts. The towers’ elevation let guards survey the entire complex.

Growth and Changes (1950-2000)

As Norway’s incarceration policies evolved after WWII, Hof Prison’s prisoner work programs and vocational education aimed at rehabilitation. Penology shifted from forced labor to activities benefiting inmates upon release. Hof’s remote location still made work release programs impractical, however.

Peak capacity
From 1950 to 1975, Hof’s population peaked around 200 to 210 prisoners in residence. Strict sentences from judges filling prisons resulted in overcrowding. Bunk beds crammed into cells built decades earlier for far fewer inmates.

Inmate programs introduced
By the 1990s, Hof offered various recreational, educational, and behavioral therapy programs to prisoners. These included training kitchens, workshops, classrooms, counseling services, and indoor/outdoor exercise facilities. But the aged buildings hampered delivery of these modern services.

Decline and Closure (2000-2019)

In the early 2000s, a mix of sociopolitical factors conspired to drive down Norway’s prison occupancy rates. Entry into the European Union and associated changes to the penal code brought alternative sanctions. A push toward rehabilitation and community corrections emptied many cell blocks.

Dropping prisoner population
Hof’s last major renovation in 1974 expanded capacity to handle up to 120 inmates in residence. Yet by 2010, averages dipped below 60 prisoners at any time. Entire cell blocks sat vacant even as their upkeep still drew resources.

See also  Bergen Prison

Aging infrastructure
Maintenance and improvement projects in the 1990s and 2000s only temporarily warded off Hof Prison’s crumbling structural issues. Its design could not overcome 19th century materials and building techniques. Costs escalated to keep the aging facility operational.

Closure decision
By 2015, Hof Prison landed on the closure list as Norway downsized its corrections system. More modern prisons assumed the shrinking inmate population across Vestfold og Telemark. After 164 years, Hof processed its last prisoner in late 2019.

Aftermath and Future Use (2019-present)

Hof Prison’s closure created impacts felt across this rural region of Norway. Dozens lost jobs at the shuttered prison. And the abandoned facility still awaits decisions on demolition or reuse of the site.

Impact on region
Over 60 staff positions got cut when Hof Prison closed, from uniformed guards to vocational instructors to administrative roles. Some transferred to other prisons, but the lost jobs hurt the small rural municipality.

Fate of facility As of late 2023, no definite plans are in place for Hof’s vacant prison facility. Talks consider repurposing the buildings or leveling parts for new construction. However, costs to abate hazardous materials like lead paint or asbestos present barriers.

For now, the ghostly cell blocks that held untold convicts for over 11 decades sit empty. What comes next for Hof Prison remains unknown.


In the almost 165 years since Hof Prison opened its doors, the world of corrections saw immense changes in prisoners’ rights, rehabilitation concepts, sentencing reforms, and carceral policies. This obscure rural prison evolved along with those societal shifts, gaining expansions or upgrades to keep up with the times.

See also  Fredrikstad Prison

Yet despite modernization attempts over the decades, Hof’s 19th century infrastructure could not overcome the deterioration of age. Skyrocketing maintenance expenses on antiquated buildings contributed to administrators’ decision to finally close Hof in 2019.

The vacant prison facility remains in limbo, awaiting its likely demolition. Hof leaves behind a complex legacy filled with hardship but also hopes for reformation. In many ways, its rise and fall mirrors the paths of those inmates who did their time within its walls.


What year did Hof Prison first open? Hof Prison first began operations in 1855 under the direction of Norwegian King Oscar I.

How many prisoners could Hof Prison hold at its peak?
In the mid-1970s after expansion projects, Hof Prison reached its maximum capacity of about 120 inmates.

Why did Norway’s prisoner rates drop after 2000? Changes to Norway’s criminal code and alternatives to incarceration drove down prison admissions in the 2000s. The country’s EU membership also contributed to declining sentences.

How many staff lost their jobs when Hof Prison closed? Over 60 prison employees ranging from uniformed guards to vocational counselors to administrative workers lost their jobs in the closure.

What is the current status of the vacant Hof Prison site?
As of late 2023, no firm decisions are made regarding potential demolition, reuse, or sale of Hof Prison’s facilities since its 2019 closure.

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