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Bastøy: Prison That Promotes The Responsibility of Freedom

There are two kinds of freedom, each defined by its preposition: freedom to, and freedom from. To implies responsibility (freedom to do); from implies security (freedom from fear or want). This prison emphasizes freedom to. The island of Bastøy in Norway is one of the most liberal prisons in the world. With hardened criminals, there are no walls, no bars on the windows and no regimentation of prisoners' lives. The idea is to teach them how to manage their time themselves.

"No bars. No walls. No armed guards. The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals. Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons. For some inmates, it is more than they can handle. . . .

The warden is a man who deals in freedom. He is also a visionary. He wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other. What he doesn't want is a camera in the supermarket. He doesn't want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.

The inmates on Bastøy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime and petty theft. "We don't pick out the mild cases," says Nilsen. Some inmates serve their entire sentences on the island. Murderers can only apply to be transferred to the island once they have served two-thirds of their sentences elsewhere. Some 115 prisoners live on Bastøy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community. Anyone caught drinking alcohol or fighting is thrown out.

The ferry operates on a regular schedule. It would be possible to swim to the mainland or find a boat in the summer, and the ocean often freezes over in the winter. The idea is that the prisoners should have an incentive to stay, and that they are still there when the count is taken -- four times a day." More

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