Every fourth inmate is locked up for 16 hours or more in their cell, and Norway has been criticized a number of times for the use of isolation. The Storting (Parliament) is now holding a hearing.
“The main rule is to have a certain number of hours outside the cell every day. It is the prison sentence that is the punishment. You should not have a prison inside the prison,” says Adele Matheson Mestad, director of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights (NIM).
The hearing held by the Control and Constitution Committee on Tuesday is a follow-up to a report from the Civil Ombudsman in June last year.
Former Civil Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger said isolation and lack of human contact in the prisons is so serious that a special announcement was made to the Storting about the scope. It is the strongest instrument the Ombud has.
Years of criticism
Adele Mestad of the human rights institution points to three factors that can affect the scope:
* There are no national rules for the use of isolation.
* This may be due to limited activity offer – which is often about staffing.
* Much of the building mass in Norwegian prisons is not suitable for community.
For a number of years, Norway has received international criticism from both the UN Committee against Torture and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Both Norwegian law and international human rights standards are violated by current practice, according to the report.
Mestad says much of the criticism has previously been directed at police arrest and custody matters. Now, the attention is turning to incarceration in the prisons.
One aspect of isolation that is particularly serious is that inmates who are mentally ill are largely affected, she points out.
“People with mental disorders are entitled to the same health services as the rest of us. Besides, being isolated can be more challenging, so it becomes a bad spiral,” says Mestad.
The Civil Ombudsman’s report also pointed to too few employees and unsuitable buildings as key factors. The Norwegian Correctional Service says the findings are consistent with an investigation by the agency itself.
“Isolation is a challenge from the prison system that we take seriously. We are largely familiar with the findings and recommendations that are discussed in the Civil Ombudsman’s report to the Storting,” says Director Lise Sannerud of the Norwegian Correctional Service.
Some of the problem is that there is no reliable overview of the extent of isolation. There are significant sources of error and shortcomings in the figures available, it is pointed out in the Civil Ombudsman’s report.
The report was made on the basis of visits to 19 prisons over a four-year period. Due to the lack of statistics, the figures in the report should be seen as minimum estimates.
“It should be strongly criticized that the administration, more than 20 years after the Storting’s Justice Committee called for such figures, lacks a reliable overview of the extent of isolation in Norwegian prisons,” the report states.
Responds to cuts
SV’s (Socialist Left Party) Petter Eide reacts strongly to the practice, pointing to the lack of funding and prioritization of a vulnerable group.
“The granting authority cuts the funds for the prisons, while at the same time knowing that it leads to isolation, and thus torture in Norwegian prisons,” he says.
More money alone will not be enough to clean up, he believes. He believes its use can also be linked to attitudes and culture.
“It is also about attitudes when resources are not allocated to prisons. This is because ministers from FrP want tough prison conditions. There is no will to improve the detention conditions, because they think it is discouraging. This hints at serious human rights violations,” he says.
© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today