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article imageNorway takes over Dutch jail to ease crowded prisons

By AFP     Sep 2, 2015 in World

Dutch authorities on Wednesday handed over the keys of a jail in the Netherlands to Norwegian officials, as Oslo gets creative with trying to resolve its problem of prison overcrowding.

Some 242 long-term Norwegian prisoners will be housed in the jail as part of an unusual and controversial deal between the two nations sealed in March.

"The Norgerhaven prison has been officially in the hands of the Norwegians since this afternoon," the Dutch justice ministry said in a statement after an official handover ceremony.

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 crisis, Norway has leased Norgerhaven prison, in the north of the Netherlands, for some 25 million euros (28 million dollars) a year. The first 24 prisoners were transferred there on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's formal handover ceremony.

Hailing the move, Norwegian Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said he was proud his country had been able to "establish 242 prison places in a very short time."

"Larger prison capacity is important to reduce the prison queues Norway has struggled with for years," he said in a statement.

But the move has angered Dutch inmates who were transferred to another jail despite fighting to stay put in their "luxurious cells", as the Dutch media have described them.

The prison governor will be a Norwegian, although the rest of the guards will be Dutch nationals.

"They have been given training in Norwegian law and culture in the past weeks in order to better prepare themselves," the Dutch ministry said.

Out of the 112 inmates already earmarked for transfer to the jail, only 79 were volunteers.

Inmates at Norgerhaven serving long sentences can plant vegetables in the garden, raise chickens, cook and enjoy a view of the countryside from their cells.

The deal will last three years, during which time Norway hopes to renovate its oldest prisons and build new facilities.

In contrast, the Netherlands believes its prison population is shrinking and some 700 cells will become vacant over the next five years. Since 2010 it has hosted some 550 Belgian prisoners in a jail in southern Tilburg.

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