Women serve under worse conditions than men

A new thematic report from the Parliamentary Ombudsman shows that women serve under poorer prison conditions than men.


‘There are different reasons for this, but old and unsuitable premises are an important part of the explanation. There are far fewer women than men in prison. This makes this group particularly vulnerable. International research shows that the low number of women in prison often leads to the prison administration and prisons in general being organised on the basis of the needs of men. Findings from visits to Norwegian prisons with female inmates show a need to raise this issue and do something about the situation,’ says Parliamentary Ombudsman Aage Thor Falkanger.

These are some of the reasons why prison conditions for women are worse than for men:

  • Several women’s prisons are located in old and unsuitable buildings.
  • Many women have significantly poorer access to outdoor areas and physical activities than men.
  • Women consistently have poorer access to real work training than men.
  • Female inmates often have other health problems than men, and therefore need different health services. Mental health care for women in prison should be improved.
  • The substance abuse rehabilitation services offered to women in prison are inferior to those offered to men.
  • Women serving in mixed-sex prisons have an increased risk of unwanted attention or sexual harassment by male inmates.
  • Some women risk having to serve in prisons with a higher level of security than their case indicates due to the limited number of prison places for women.
  • Female inmates risk having to serve their sentence in prisons far away from their families and their own children because of the low number of suitable prison places. This can be particularly challenging for mothers who would like visits from children who cannot travel alone.

The report is based on 14 visits to prisons, of which eight held women serving prison sentences. A questionnaire survey has also been conducted about the conditions in all Norwegian prisons and transitional housing facilities where women serve alone or together with men.