Norway sends first convicts to Dutch prison
Norway on Tuesday sent for the first time a group of convicts to a jail in the Netherlands because its own prisons are filled to the brim.
"The first prisoners have arrived," Karl Hillesland, the new Norwegian head of Norgerhaven prison in the Netherlands, told AFP.
Due to lack of space, more than 1,000 convicts in Norway are waiting to be placed in prisons, where they are often assigned to individual cells.
To resolve the problem, Norway has leased the Norgerhaven prison from the Netherlands.
But the move has dismay of Dutch inmates imprisoned there, who were transferred to another facility despite fighting to stay put in their "luxurious cells", as Dutch media have described them.
Around 25 inmates made up the first prisoner transfer on Tuesday, ahead of a formal handover ceremony between the two countries' justice ministers on Wednesday.
At Norgerhaven, inmates serving long sentences can plant vegetables in the garden, raise chickens, cook and enjoy the pastoral surroundings from their cells.
"It's a very cushy prison, a pleasant prison," Kenneth Vimme, who is serving a 17-year sentence for murder and who volunteered for a transfer, told Norwegian public television NRK.
But he complained that fewer television channels would be offered to inmates, and was dismayed that not all prisoners were going of their own free will, which he feared could cause tensions.
Of the 112 prisoners being transferred in a first phase, 79 were volunteers. The others were being moved against their will.
Norgerhaven will eventually host 242 prisoners from Norway.
An association representing the families of inmates has protested against the transfer abroad and criticised the way in which it was done.
"To serve your sentence so far from home hurts your chances of rehabilitation in society and the possibility of family visits," association head Hanne Hamsund, told AFP.
"With the trip and a night at a hotel, it will cost about 5,000 kroner (530 euros/$600) per person to visit a family member," she said, regretting the lack of financial assistance from the Norwegian state.
The inmates will serve their sentences under the Norwegian penal system, which has a reputation for being liberal, and under the responsibility of a Norwegian prison director, but the rest of the staff will be Dutch.
They will return to Norway before their release.
The Netherlands has also rented out prison space to Belgium.
© 2015 AFP