The serving of sentences in the Netherlands is in violation of Norway’s human rights obligations

‘Inmates who are transferred to Norgerhaven Prison are not guaranteed adequate protection against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.’ This was Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger's conclusion in a report following a visit to the prison.

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The report points out that the execution of sentences in another state does not exempt Norway from its responsibility to prevent human rights violations. It is also underlined that it is essential to ensure that legal gaps do not arise that could undermine the protection of inmates’ human rights. The Parliamentary Ombudsman visited the prison under its prevention mandate from the UN in the period 19–22 September 2016. The visit report is public.

The visit report emphasises that, pursuant to the agreement on renting prison capacity, the Norwegian authorities will not be entitled to initiate a police investigation in the event of a violation of the prohibition against torture and inhuman treatment in Norgerhaven Prison.

‘This kind of arrangement is particularly problematic in light of our obligations under the UN Convention against Torture. It is also problematic that, in an emergency situation, official bodies from another state will be able to use weapons and coercive measures against inmates who have been transferred to the Netherlands to serve their sentences. From a preventative point of view, such an arrangement, in which the Norwegian authorities are prevented from fulfilling their responsibility to protect inmates, entails a risk of torture and inhuman treatment,’ says the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman also points out that it is unacceptable that body cuffs, a means of restraint that prevent freedom of movement, are placed on all inmates during air transport to and from the Netherlands, without individual risk assessments having been made.

The Norwegian authorities have since 2015 rented 242 places at the prison where persons convicted in Norway can serve their sentences.

‘Despite the prison’s generally good physical conditions and positive feedback from the inmates as regards the staff, there are a number of circumstances that result in the rehabilitation aspect of serving a sentence in the Netherlands suffering when compared to serving in Norway,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger. The education options available in Norgerhaven Prison are not adapted to inmates who wish to take upper secondary and higher education. The inmates’ actual possibility of receiving visits from family and friends is limited. The inmates’ personal progression while serving, i.e. serving under increasingly better conditions, is complicated by the long processing times for applications for, for example, parole and transfer to less restrictive prisons. Neither are the inmates given information about the progress in their case. Language challenges and the staff’s lack of knowledge of the Norwegian regulatory framework and practice have a negative effect on the serving of the inmates’ sentences. The report also emphasises that it gives cause for concern that inmates who have extensive health care needs, young inmates and inmates who are not proficient in English are transferred to the prison, irrespective of whether or not this is voluntary.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman considers complaints from individuals on matters of injustice at the hands of the public administration and has since 2013 been tasked with visiting places where persons are deprived of their liberty to prevent torture and inhuman treatment. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has so far conducted announced and unannounced visits under its prevention mandate to 32 prisons, custody facilities, child welfare institutions, mental health care institutions and similar.