Iceland Culture: Suite Prison Life

We’re heading to Iceland Airwaves! Here’s a preview of a cultural story Kellie’s pursuing while there. Follow Columbia students’ journey, which begins October 30, on the Iceland Airwaves 2013 blog.

A good gym. A pool. A kitchen, dining room and library.

Now that’s my kind of prison.

Yes, you read that correctly. Prison. Iceland’s prisons are radically different from our prisons in the United States. And lying at the end of the extreme comfort scale is Kvíabryggja, Iceland’s only “open prison”

Kvíabryggja has no fences or bars and holds 22 inmates. The prison is located out in the country, on acres of farmland the prisoners tend. Inmates are allowed to bring personal items such as laptops, cell phones, and CDs into their cells, which look more like well-decorated college dorms. The prison has interview rooms, a lounge area, a kitchen, dining room, library, gym and pool in the basement.

Those serving time in this prison are pretty much expected to take care of themselves—do their own laundry, cook and clean. They can work, or they can pursue higher education while incarcerated, and they have almost no phone restrictions. They are allowed to have visitors once a week and one third of their way through their sentence they can even apply to leave the prison as often as one a month to visit family and friends.

Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and an incarceration rate of 44 per 100,000. Now let’s compare that to the United States, which has a very high crime rate and the highest incarceration rate in the world, at 716 per 100,000. While in Iceland, the governor of three small prisons in Iceland, Guðmundur Gíslason, and Assistant Director of the Prison and Probation administration, Erlendur Sigurður Baldursson, will fill us in on how Iceland approaches incarceration and what we lessons we might learn from their approach.


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