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Norway's Bastoy prison changes lives using human ecology

By Karen Graham     Feb 25, 2015 in World
Norway has an island prison, but it's nothing like California's notorious Alcatraz federal prison. There are no bars, fences or uniforms. Instead, the island's inhabitants live and work together in peace and harmony with their surroundings.
About an hour's commute by water from Oslo, Norway is Bastoy Island, a minimum security prison 46 miles off the nation's coast. The 2.6 square kilometer (1 square mile) island is home to 115 prisoners, some of them convicted murderers, rapists, and drug dealers. They is a staff of 69 prison employees, yet only five guards stay on the island at overnight.
This progressive prison, promoting human values and tolerance was once home to a notorious boys reformatory, housing youngsters who were victims of parental neglect, abuse, and poverty. Opened in 1900, the reformatory was the site of an insurrection in 1915, when a group of boys rebelled against the harsh treatment of their keepers. The uprising resulted in the Norwegian military being called in to quell the revolt.
Bastoy Island was once a reformatory for boys.
Bastoy Island was once a reformatory for boys.
The 1915 uprising did not stop the strict and often times harsh treatment of the boys, which continued until 1953 when the Norwegian Ministry of Social Affairs took over operations. The reformatory was finally shut down in October, 1970. Bastoy Prison was founded in 1982.
Human Ecology - an experiment 33 years in the making
Norway's Bastoy prison was started as a social experiment, defining a way to rehabilitate convicted law-breakers, instilling values of responsibility, trust, leadership, and accountability. All these values are based on what authorities call "human ecology." And Norway is working hard to make Bastoy one of the "world's first ecological prisons." The reasoning behind this concept is very simple, really.
Human ecology is a theory based on looking at the interactions between humans and their environment, considering this relationship as a system. The theory takes into account how humans interact with the natural environment as well as those environments created by humans. And this is important to a convict understanding the biological and social interactions that have influenced his decisions.
Bastoy Prison started as an experiment in human ecology 33 years ago in Norway.
Bastoy Prison started as an experiment in human ecology 33 years ago in Norway.
This is where learning to trust, as well as respect himself and others becomes an issue in accepting accountability. Not only prisoners, but the staff as well, are expected to gain an understanding of the relationship between the natural, social and the artificially built environment we live in. According to the prison's website, prisoners and staff on the island are expected to have an understanding and focus on human relations, to understand that we influence and are influenced by others and to have a respect for the nature around us.
Based on recidivism rates, Norway's Bastoy prison must be doing something very right. Statistics for Bastoy show re-offending rates two years after release at 16 percent, compared with the whole of Europe at 70 percent. The U.S. has a recidivism rate of 67.8 percent three years after release and a whopping rate of 56.7 percent after the first year of release.
Life on Bastoy Island
Bastoy Prison uses the whole island, including a northern beach area that is open to the public. There are 80 buildings in the prison community, including a shop, library, information office, health services, church, school, NAV (government social services), dock, ferry service (with its own shipping agency), and a lighthouse with facilities to rent for smaller meetings and seminars,
Maritime training is available to inmates  including a fishong boat  the ferry  and a maritime shipp...
Maritime training is available to inmates, including a fishong boat, the ferry, and a maritime shipping company.
Prisoners wear their own clothing and have private rooms with a key to lock the door, if they wish. Prisoners have access to and can use the gym, weight room and climbing wall. They can watch movies in the movie room, use the hiking trails, beach, go fishing, horseback riding or take educational courses, as well as attend lectures and concerts.
The work units at Bastoy are unique in that while working at a job, the prisoner also is learning a trade that results in a craftsman's license. Training is available in agriculture, technical skills, the kitchen and maritime skills. Everyone has to work, and the workday starts at 8:30 a.m. and again for some at 3:30 p.m. Free time is the inmates to do as he pleases. Not everyone is lucky enough to be accepted to the island. Prisoners must apply when they have five years left on their sentence,
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