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Enjoy the sunset, beach as Prisoners here do

Written by: Staff

Bastoy Prison (Norway), Mar 23: The Web site reads like an advertisement for a holiday home.

''Is Bastoy the place for you?'' it asks next to photographs of a sunset sparkling off the tranquil waters of the Oslo fjord and horses pulling sleighs over packed snow.

This wooded island could be -- if you are a rapist, a murderer, a drug trafficker or have accepted a large bribe.

''We try to take a cross-section of the country's prison population, not just the nice criminals,'' said Oyvind Alnaes, governor of the minimum security prison on Bastoy Island about 75 km (46 miles) south of the Norwegian capital.

Inmates have included Norway's most notorious serial killer, Arnfinn Nesset, convicted of murdering 22 elderly people when he was manager of a nursing home in the 1970s. He was freed for good behaviour after serving two-thirds of a 21-year sentence.

''A lot of people in Norway say that we treat them (the prisoners) too well because they should be punished. But this is the biggest mistake we have been making since the 1600s. Taking this line makes people bad,'' Alnaes said.

''You have to believe people are born good.'' The 2.6 square km (1.0 sq mile) Bastoy island offers its 115 ''residents'' cross-country skiing, tennis and horse-riding, but before the inmates can slope off to practise their serve or head to the beach for a swim, there is work to do on the farm.

''We want to become the first ecological prison in the world,'' Alnaes said. ''It's about giving the inmates responsibility (and) trust, and teaching them respect.'' Alnaes, who wears jeans and t-shirts to work and is known to the inmates as Oyvind, says this model of open prison is the future. In 1997, he gave Bastoy Prison a new slogan: ''An arena of the development of responsibility''.

ESCAPE Looking after the island's environment, he says, will nurture this sense of responsibility in the prisoners.

''Ecological thinking is about taking responsibility for nature, the future and how your grandchildren grow up,'' he said.

Only a handful of cars are used by prison staff on the island and along with the ferry, their engines will be converted to biofuel. The prison's six horses do most of the work, pulling carts driven by the prisoners, waste from the prison is used to generate power while oil heaters are being converted to wood.

The governor's development of responsibility goes further.

''The usual thing is that prisons are all about security,'' he said. ''On the island, inmates work with knives and saws and axes. They need to to do the work. And if an inmates increases his responsibility, you have to give him trust.''


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