Bastoy Prison Island – A Relaxing Getaway for Hardened Criminals

Norway is famous for its liberal prison system, but not even the most optimistic criminal would ever hope to end up in a place like Bastoy Island. It’s quite simply paradise on Earth for serious offenders looking for some time off from crime.

Located about an hour away from Oslo, Bastoy Prison, if you can even call this place a prison, is located on a scenic island accessible by ferry. The unique philosophy governing this place can be observed from the moment you set foot on the boat, which is manned almost exclusively by inmates. Instead of just trying to make a run for it as soon as they reach the mainland, these hardened criminals greet visitors and help dock the boat. But once you get to the island and see the kind of freedom and resort-like leisure prisoners enjoy at Bastoy, it becomes clear why they wouldn’t want to go anywhere.

Photo: Disinformation

This holiday version of Alcatraz has plenty of beaches where inmates actually sunbathe during the warm summer months, plenty of great fishing spots, tennis courts and even a nice relaxing sauna. Instead of tiny cells, the around 115 prisoners on Bastoy Island live in cozy wooden cottages painted in warm colors, and carry the keys to their own quarters so they can come and go as they please. But you know what they don’t have at Bastoy Prison? Armed guards and fences preventing anyone from escaping. And just so we’re clear, the men here have been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from drug trafficking to rape and murder. Still, they enjoy the kind of lifestyle that is just unthinkable anywhere else, and that most people would actually pay for as a vacation.

Photo: Akkora

But the idea of Bastoy Prison isn’t to offend the people of Norway by pampering criminals instead of punishing them, but to change them, because, as Arne Kvernvik Nilsen, the prison’s governor, says, “what’s the point of punishment, except for leaning toward the primitive side of humanity?” And guess what, Bastoy works! According to statistics, only 20% of criminals who experience Norway’s progressive prison system reoffend within two years of being released, and at Bastoy figures are even better, dropping to an impressive 16%. In comparison, the three-year re-offense rate for US prisons has been 43%, according to a 2011 study, with older ones indicating even grimmer numbers of over 50%.

Photo: John D. Sutter/CNN

Getting back to life in Bastoy Prison, you should know there are very few rules here prisoners have to obey, and a lot more perks to enjoy. Everyone here has a job they have to report to from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, but they can choose from gardening, farming, taking care of horses, and a bunch of other activities. They get paid about $10 a day for their work, and can spend their salary on groceries at the local shop, so they can cook for themselves at breakfast and lunch. But for dinner the prison cook offers them a diversified menu which includes everything from salmon to chicken con carne. Also, inmates have to check in several times a day, so the guards can make sure they’re still on the island.


Only 1 and a half miles of water separates Bastoy Island from the mainland, and with no fences to stop them from escaping, all inmates would have to do is swim across, or even better, steal one of the boats. All the inmates agree it would be extremely easy to get away, but only a few of them have ever attempted. If they escaped and were later caught, they would be transferred to a maximum security prison and have their sentences extended, and most don’t want to risk that. Plus, having just three unarmed prison guards on the island during the night, makes them feel like they have no reason to escape. But to reassure them further, Nilsen gives them a small talk when they first arrive at Bastoy, telling them to find a phone on the mainland and call, should they escape, “so we don’t have to send the coast guard looking for you.” It’s this kind of shocking trust that keeps prisoners from going anywhere.


Despite being treated more like tourists than prisoners, all the inmates on Bastoy Island say they will gladly leave this place when their sentence has been executed. “It’s still prison,” one of them says. “In your mind you are locked up.”

Bastoy isn’t the only convict-friendly jail in Norway. Two years ago, we wrote about Halende, a prison that looks more like a hotel, where even mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik could end up, and there are more of them where the philosophy is not to punish criminals, but to make them want to become better people. “It’s all in the name of reintegration,” said Gerhard Ploeg, a senior adviser at Norway’s Ministry of Justice. “You won’t be suddenly one day standing on the street with a plastic bag of things you had when you came in” he added.

Sources: CNN, The Week

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Feedback (4 Comments)

  • isaac32757 Posted on May 28, 2012

    Coddling criminals: it actually works!

  • Norwegian Posted on June 2, 2012

    Unfortunately, this is totally out of context. If you want to understand any of this, you have to study Norwegian history and also Bastøya’s history. Presented like this, it’s just exotism of the worst sort.

  • Satin Posted on June 3, 2012

    very funny! though the re-offence rate may decrease, but it will encourage newer criminals for crime if they can end up in such holiday prisons, a little bit of crime here n there will not be a big deal ,this is ass kissing of serious criminals ( child murderers,rapists) ,this is crazy n stupid!

  • Criminal Justice Student Posted on June 12, 2012

    If you know what happens to the men & women who enter regular prisons systems, then you would understand why trying something different like this may be a better alternative for some? I’m not saying that horrible violent killers, rapist or violent child molesters should be here, unless there are special circumstances to their case(& I mean very special, like being severely abused as childen that may have made them this way & with therapy while there, maybe they can be helped? Also, their found not legally insane as well, yes I know, most of you are thinking, jeez even me for a minute there, dang my home right now isn’t that nice & no I don’t eat that well most of the time, so why do these people deserve to live better than most of us? Well, after criminals are in the system for a number of years, they become so institutionalized that or more than half most likely, esp. the longer their inside, they can not return to society & make it in the real world, so most are back in prison within 1-2yrs. & some before that. Some become so scared of getting out & don’t know how their going to make it or some of them, their minds become so messed up from staring at 4 walls all day or being stuck in solitary confinement most of the time, that they commit more crimes while in prison so that they’re not released. So, although this may seem to light of a sentence and more like a vacation, they are still locked up, they still have no rights for the most part, so maybe helping them to learn how to live a better life & how to take care of themselves instead of teaching them how to be better criminal just may be the answer for some? There are reasons these people are in prison & it’s not because mom & dad took the time to give them love or teach them to be a man or woman, for some that is.. so maybe this is a better way of trying to fix their lives & not making them 10x’s worse, so hopefully one day when they are released they can make it on the outside instead of committing more crimes or hurting more people. Hey, it cant hurt, the other way doesn’t seem to be working, look at the return rate, it’s unbelievable & there’s a reason for that, which we as a society need to figure out, so wth, at least give it a chance!