Cramped, old prisons need changing

Conditions are unhealthy for prisoners and staff alike, claims association president

Denmark has a worldwide reputation for having soft prisons, but according to the president of the prison association some of them are anything but.

Kim Østerbye, the president of Fængselsforbundets, has said that conditions at ten Zealand prisons are so bad that inmates and staff are crammed together in old buildings that no longer serve their needs.

He further adds that inmates spend most of the hours in a day in small cells with almost no daylight.

”The existing detention centres are built for another time,” he told DR Sjælland. ”There is too little space for joint activities. Inmates are allowed to stay in their small cells most of the day, except for one hour of recreation time.”

At the prison in Slagelse there are no common areas, and so when it was time to hold a Christmas service and dinner for 30 inmates, it had to be held in a gym.

A call for change
Østerbye proposes that new and larger detention centres should be built near major regional police stations, but does not advocate that all of the old centres should be closed as they do provide for local jobs.

Rather, he proposes, some of the smallest and oldest should be discontinued, while others should be modernised.

Ebbe Storm, a jailor at Slagelse, raises concerns over the small windows in the ceilings of cells, telling DR he ”does not know what it does to people” and that it cannot be ”healthy”.

Furthermore, the prison has a small workshop where there is only space for a few inmates, meaning the rest of the inmates who are doing assembly work do it in their already small cells. The workshop allows prisoners to work on small projects that earn them a small allowance of ten kroner per hour.

Kriminalforsorgen, the criminal welfare office, is currently assessing all the prisons to figure out which ones could be modernised and how.