The first of 240 Norwegian prisoners are due to arrive in the Netherlands this week to serve out their sentences in a Dutch prison.
The prisoners are being moved to the Norgerhaven jail in Veenhuizen, a remote Drenthe village which was originally built as a labour camp and workhouse for ‘anti-social families’ in the 1820s and later became a penal colony.
Dutch prisoners have been moved out of the Norgerhaven jail to free up space for the Norwegians, who will be treated according to Norwegian prison rules. A Norwegian prison director is in charge but the guards will be Dutch. They have been given English language lessons so they can communicate with the new arrivals.
The controversial three-year deal with Norway was signed by former junior justice minister Fred Teeven earlier this year. Norway has a shortage of prison cells and the Netherlands a surplus.
The deal also guaranteed 239 full-time jobs in Veenhuizen, which has two other prisons and a secure hostel for young refugees.
This week, 25 Norwegians will arrive at Groningen’s Eelde airport and will then be taken to Veenhuizen. All are serving long sentences and will not be allowed outside the prison, news website Nu.nl said.
The Guardian wrote earlier this year that Norwegian prisoners’ organisations and the wardens’ union are opposed to the move.
‘We’re very sceptical about the agreement because it violates several fundamental principles, primarily family proximity to the prisoner during detention,’ Hanne Hamsund, who heads an organisation representing Norwegian prisoners’ families, said at the time.
The Norwegian authorities have pointed out that the distance from Oslo to the north of the country is greater than to the Netherlands but ‘not everyone lives in Oslo’, Hamsund said.
There are no trains to Veenhuizen and no flights from Norway to Groningen airport. Travelling from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Veenhuizen by public transport takes almost three hours.
Norgerhaven is not the first Dutch jail to be used by foreign prisoners. The Willem II prison in Tilburg is currently housing several hundred Belgians.
According to the Dagblad van het Noorden, Norway is paying the Netherlands €25.5m a year to rent the prison.
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